UN Security Council to meet on rights abuses in North Korea

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council will meet publicly to discuss human rights abuses in North Korea next week, a move requested by the United States, Albania and Japan that is likely to anger Pyongyang and face opposition from China and Russia.

It will be the first formal public meeting of the 15-member council on the issue since 2017.

North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuses and blames sanctions for a dire humanitarian situation. Since 2006 it has been under U.N. sanctions over its ballistic missiles and nuclear programs, but there are aid exemptions.

“It is long overdue,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reading a joint statement by the United States, Albania, Japan and South Korea.

“We know the government’s human rights abuses and violations facilitate the advancement of its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” she said.

The council would meet on Aug. 17 and be briefed by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK, Elizabeth Salmón, said Thomas-Greenfield.

China and Russia object to the issue being raised in the council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security. They say rights issues should be confined to other bodies such as the U.N. Human Rights Council or General Assembly.

China and Russia could call a procedural vote next week, but a senior U.S. official said they were confident they have the minimum nine votes needed hold the meeting. Vetoes do not apply on procedural issues.

In March, the United States accused China of attempting to hide North Korea’s atrocities from the world by blocking the webcast of an informal meeting of Security Council members on accusations of human rights abuses by Pyongyang.

The council has held annual formal meetings on the issue for the past three years, but behind closed doors. Between 2014 and 2017 the council held annual public meetings on human rights abuses in North Korea.

In 2018 it did not discuss the issue amid since-failed efforts by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and then U.S. President Donald Trump to work toward Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

Then the following year the United States instead convened a meeting on the threat of escalation by North Korea amid growing tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

A landmark 2014 U.N. report on North Korean human rights concluded that North Korean security chiefs – and possibly leader Kim himself – should face justice for overseeing a state-controlled system of Nazi-style atrocities. The United States sanctioned Kim in 2016 for human rights abuses.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alex Richardson)