South Korea has for the first time supported a United Nations resolution criticizing North Korea's human rights record. Pyongyang's representative rejected the measure, calling it a "political plot".
The U.N. committee dealing with human rights issues sharply rebuked North Korea Friday. Ninety-one of the world body's 192 member states approved a resolution expressing serious concern at Pyongyang's use of torture, public executions and other grave rights violations.
Twenty-one countries voted against the measure, including Sudan, Belarus, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Indonesia and Egypt. Sixty others abstained.
In a significant shift, however, South Korea, which has previously abstained on measures criticizing the north, this time voted with the majority. Seoul has taken a tougher stance against its northern neighbor since Pyongyang conducted missile tests in July and tested a nuclear device last month.
South Korea's U.N. Ambassador Choi Young-jin called on Pyongyang to take what he called "practical steps" to improve its human rights record. But he said Seoul would continue its policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the North.
North Korea's deputy U.N. Ambassador Kim Chang Guk reacted sharply to the vote. He described the resolution as part of a U.S. plot and a violation of his country's sovereignty. "The delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea resolutely opposes and rejects the anti-DPRK draft resolution, sponsored by the EU, regarding it as a product of a political plot of the United States and satellites as an illegal document to debase the sacred sovereignty of Democratic People's Republic of Korea," he said.
U.S. and European diplomats rejected the North Korean charges. One European envoy called the allegations "ridiculous".
A day before the vote, three prominent activists came to U.N. headquarters to urge a strong condemnation of North Korea's human rights abuses.
Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, former Norwegian prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Czech President Vaclav Havel recently wrote a report accusing Pyongyang some of the most egregious human rights disasters in the world.
Wiesel said he and the others had come to sound an alarm, and send a message of hope to North Korea's people. "If we are here for North Korea, it is because we believe North Korea today needs our help, needs the help of the U.N, needs at least the very idea that they are not alone, that we are here to hear their cry. And we will help them," he said.
Adoption of the resolution is tantamount to approval by the full General Assembly, since the committee includes all 192 U.N. member states. But it has no legal force.