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UN Human Rights Body Censures North Korea - 2003-04-16

The United Nations' top human rights body has censured North Korea for the first time for abuses against its citizens. At the same time, Russia escaped condemnation for the second straight year, despite its military actions in Chechnya.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned North Korea for what it said were systematic violations that included torture, public executions and forced labor. The resolution marks the first time in its 57-year history that the commission has censured Pyongyang. The resolution calls for a United Nations special investigator to travel to North Korea.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Kevin Moley, called the resolution a victory for human rights of the people of North Korea. "We hope the government there will take this resolution seriously. This is what the business of the Human Rights Commission is all about - pointing out abuses of human rights," Mr. Moley said.

The resolution, introduced by the European Union, passed with 28 votes and was co-sponsored by the United States, Japan, Australia and Canada. South Korea did not vote on the measure, which received 14 abstentions and 10 opposed votes.

The North Korean delegate to the commission argued that the motion was full of fabrications. He threatened that North Korea could retaliate against the EU for submitting the resolution.

Rights organizations welcomed the censure. A spokeswoman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide said North Korea has escaped international scrutiny and condemnation far too long. She asked not to be identified because Chinese and North Korean authorities could block her travel in aid of rights victims.

"We believe from our research that it is probably the worst human rights abuser in the world. Yet for the last 50 years there has been almost no comment, no resolution passed by the commission. So this is really a very positive step. We hope it sends a strong message to North Korea that the international community is watching and is now reacting. And they cannot now just continue to violate the rights of their people," she said.

The Human Rights Commission considered other country's records on Wednesday. It rejected a resolution calling on Russia to stop alleged abuses by its soldiers and police in Chechnya. The motion accused Russian authorities of carrying out forced disappearances, torture and summary executions. It also denounced hostage taking and attacks by Chechen separatists.

Twenty-one of the commission's 53 members, including Russia, China, Cuba, Brazil and India, defeated the resolution that was backed by European nations and the United States.

A vote on Cuba's rights record was postponed until Thursday after Costa Rica proposed criticizing Cuba's tough crackdown on dissidents in recent weeks.

The move has been followed by the executions last week of three men convicted of hijacking a ferry bound for the United States earlier this month.