North Korea Faces Key Vote in UN on Human Rights

November 18, 2014 Updated: November 18, 2014

UNITED NATIONS—An attempt to weaken a United Nations move to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity failed Tuesday.

The U.N. General Assembly human rights committee, in a packed chamber, voted down a proposal to strip the ICC language from a non-binding draft resolution that would urge the Security Council to make the referral.

The resolution grew out of a groundbreaking U.N. commission of inquiry report on North Korea early this year that declared the country’s human rights situation “exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror.”

The resolution is the boldest effort yet to hold the impoverished but nuclear-armed country accountable for alleged crimes against humanity.

The committee was to vote later Tuesday (3 p.m., 2000 GMT) on the resolution drafted by the European Union and Japan.

The Cuba-proposed amendment to weaken the resolution was rejected with 40 yes votes, 77 no votes and 50 states abstaining. Cuba and other countries like Russia, South Africa and China protested that the resolution unfairly targeted a single country.

“We’re trying to ensure a precedent is not being set here,” said Cuba’s ambassador, Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez.

The mere possibility that young leader Kim Jong Un could be targeted by prosecutors has put North Korean officials, once dismissive of human rights issues, on edge. In recent weeks, it dangled the possibility of a visit by the U.N. human rights chief, among other attempts at outreach.

A North Korean diplomat, foreign ministry adviser Kim Ju Song, told The Associated Press shortly after the vote that his country was still lobbying countries ahead of the crucial afternoon vote.

The EU-Japan resolution says the commission of inquiry report found grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed under policies “established at the highest level of the State for decades.” It calls for targeted sanctions against the people who appear to be most responsible.

That language would have been cut if Cuba’s proposed amendment had been approved by member states.

From The Associated Press