A divided UN General Assembly committee approved a resolution on Thursday expressing "serious concern" at continuing reports of widespread human rights violations in North Korea.
The vote on the resolution, sponsored by the EU, was 84 in favor, 22 against, and 62 abstentions, a reflection of the deep split in the world body over the broad issue of human rights and the narrower one of how to tackle abuses.
It is expected to be sent to the General Assembly for a final vote.
The resolution sparked heated debate in the assembly committee that deals with social and humanitarian issues, partly because it was the first time that a resolution on human rights in North Korea was introduced in the General Assembly.
Britain's UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who introduced the resolution on behalf of the EU, noted that in the past such resolutions were put before the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. But he said this year, because of the lack of improvement in North Korea's human rights record, the EU asked the General Assembly to take up the issue.
The resolution, which has 40 co-sponsors, expresses "serious concern" at the "continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" in North Korea, including torture, public executions, imposing the death penalty for political reasons and the extensive use of forced labor. It also expresses "serious concern" at North Korea's refusal to allow a UN human rights investigator into the country, and at the treatment of North Koreans repatriated from other countries who face internment, torture and other punishments including the death penalty.
Following the EU's introduction of the resolution, North Korea last week ordered non-governmental European aid groups to leave the country. The order covers at least 11 of the 12 foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the isolated North, which has struggled for a decade with severe food shortages. The groups affected are running health, sanitation, forestry and other programs.
The order for the NGOs to wind up operations by Dec. 31 comes as the World Food Program (WFP) also is scrambling to preserve its access to North Korea following a government request for the UN agency to wind up its food aid program this year and switch to economic development assistance.
The resolution expresses "deep concern at the precarious humanitarian situation in the country, in particular the prevalence of infant malnutrition, which still affects the physical and mental development of a significant percentage of children."
It urges North Korea to ensure unimpeded access to all parts of the country for humanitarian organizations, NGOs, and UN agencies, especially the WFP.
Before Thursday's vote, North Korea's representative rejected the draft, accusing the EU and the US of misusing human rights issues for political purposes against small and weak developing countries. The resolution was based on false information and was evidence that the EU was trying to interfere in North Korea's internal affairs and promote regime change, the diplomat said.
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