The United Nations' human rights office is in talks with North Korea about a possible visit to Pyongyang by the world body's top human rights official, a U.N. official has told VOA.
The potential visit would be the U.N.'s first chance to visit North Korea to review the country’s human rights record. The U.N. has long demanded that North Korea allow a visit by an investigator as part of its ongoing probe of the human rights situation there, but the communist country has previously rejected all such proposals.
An official at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong invited U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to visit his country during their recent meeting in New York.
"Our office has been seeking to engage with the DPRK on human rights dialogue. The High Commissioner welcomes an invitation," spokeswoman Ce’cile Pouilly wrote in an email to VOA. "… We are in continued discussion with the DPRK to prepare the groundwork for a possible visit."
Tension with European Union
The possibility of Zeid's visit to North Korea was raised after Pyongyang accused the European Union of "unilaterally" declining the country’s invitation to the EU representative for human rights to visit and an offer to meet with families of defectors.
The EU denied the accusation, saying it only delayed the visit for better timing.
"The visit was not cancelled by the EU side, but postponed to a yet-to-be-agreed date to ensure that the visit could take place in the best circumstances possible," an EU representative wrote in an email last week.
U.N. emphasis on the North
The North Korean invitation came amid growing pressure from the U.N. on human rights conditions in the North.
Last December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution that calls for the Security Council to consider referring the North Korean human rights situation to the International Criminal Court in a bid to hold Pyongyang accountable for its human rights violations.
The U.N. move was opposed by China and Russia, which have veto power on the U.N. council. The EU and Japan are pushing for a new U.N. resolution with a series of tougher measures, including a referral by the Security Council.
On Thursday, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea repeated a call for the U.N. body’s action against North Korea.
"I remain convinced that the Security Council should refer the human rights situation in the DPRK, which affects directly the state of international security, to the International Criminal Court," Marzuki Darusman U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in his statement to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.
Nine groups – including Amnesty international, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch – sent a joint letter to U.N. Security Council Thursday, asking it to hold another formal session on North Korea's human rights situation.
Pyongyang usually has rejected international criticism of its human rights record as an alleged attempt to overthrow its political and social system.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Korean Service.