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UN Vote on Rights Abuses Keeps Pressure on North Korea

Members of the Security Council vote in favor of putting North Korea's human rights situation on the council's agenda during a meeting on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014.
Members of the Security Council vote in favor of putting North Korea's human rights situation on the council's agenda during a meeting on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014.

North Korea has denounced a U.N. Security Council vote on Monday to address human rights abuses in the country. The vote increases international pressure on North Korea’s leaders. Given the angry reaction so far from Pyongyang, it could also escalate the possibility of confrontation.

The vote to put North Korean human rights violations on the U.N. Security Council’s agenda was passed despite objections from China and Russia. An angry North Korea refused to recognize the meeting. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was among those who spoke out against the government's alleged crimes against humanity.

“Today we have broken the Council's silence. We have begun to shine a light, and what it has revealed is terrifying," said Power.

This was the first time North Korea’s human rights situation had been debated by the U.N. Security Council. International pressure has been intensifying on Pyongyang since the release of a U.N. report this year documenting a network of political prisons in North Korea and atrocities that include murder, enslavement, torture, rape and forced abortions.

As a procedural rule, once the Security Council votes to put an issue in its agenda, that issue can be brought up again at any time.

Phil Robertson, of the international rights group Human Rights Watch, said that means the international body intends to keep the pressure on North Korea.

“Kim Jong Un better watch out. He’s now facing a determined international consensus armed with strong information about the crimes that have been committed by him and his predecessors and a determination to see this through,” said Robertson.

So far, North Korean officials have rejected efforts to engage on this issue. Instead they have asked the U.N. to investigate the United States over Washington's recently released CIA torture report, and have called North Korean defectors who aided the U.N. commission of inquiry human scum.

The U.N. Security Council has not yet take action on a recommendation to refer North Korea's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. Such a move would likely be vetoed by North Korea’s allies, China or Russia.

In the past the international community had focused exclusively on curbing North Korea’s nuclear program.

Korea analyst Victor Cha, with the Center for Strategic and Internationals Studies, said he does not know how Pyongyang will react to this new pressure focusing on the country’s human rights violations.

“The question is how they will react to it. Will they react to it by actually making concessions on the human rights side, allowing international monitors to come inside the country, or are they going to react to it with a fourth nuclear test and a barrage of missile test? We just don’t know,” said Cha.

The U.N. vote comes at a time of high tension between the United States and North Korea. Washington promised to retaliate against North Korea for allegedly launching a cyberattack against a major movie studio to stop the launch of comedy centered around the fictional assassination of Kim Jong Un. This has been followed by reports of Internet outages in North Korea that some speculate may be a U.S. counter cyberattack.

VOA News Producer in Seoul Youmi Kim contributed to this report.