A week after the passage of a UN resolution condemning North Korea's human rights record, the reclusive regime has ratcheted up threats against the US and Japan, warning its Pacific neighbor "will disappear from the world map for good."
The bluster came in a statement issued Sunday by North Korea's National Defense Commission (NDC). In it, the country — known officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — predicted "time will prove what high price those who unreasonably violated the dignity of the DPRK despite its repeated warnings will have to pay."
The NDC also referred to the specter of "nuclear war" on the Korean peninsula, and intimated that the country may be considering a further nuclear test.
The statement was a direct response to the passage of a resolution last Tuesday in the General Assembly's Third Committee that urged the Security Council to consider referring North Korea's human rights abuses to the International Criminal Court.
Though both China and Russia are expected to veto such a move, the resolution — overwhelmingly approved by member states — was highly symbolic, and upped pressure on the isolated nation.
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For months prior to the vote, North Korea had engaged in a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at averting attention from the results of a UN Commission of Inquiry that investigated human rights abuses in the country. In an April report, the Commission found the government in Pyongyang has systematically murdered, starved, and raped its own citizens, imprisoning tens of thousands of people in political prisons.
"The UN as a body has never come out in this way to criticize North Korea," Charles Armstrong, professor of Korean Studies at Columbia University, told VICE News. "This will be hanging over them for some time to come."
'It's not the first time that they've threatened us over nuclear issues. It's actually a usual, daily matter.'
On Monday, Japanese diplomats brushed aside the latest North Korean threats, and said they would not back in down in urging the Security Council to consider the resolution.
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"It's not the first time that they've threatened us over nuclear issues," Taro Tsutsumi, counselor at Japan's mission to the United Nations, which co-authored the UN resolution along with the European Union, told VICE News. "It's actually a usual, daily matter."
However, last week observers at the US-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University said they had satellite imagery from the country that indicated it might be attempting to restart plutonium production in preparation for a fourth nuclear test.
Though China has largely been silent on its neighbor's human rights record, the possibility of a nuclear event could lead to more phone calls from Beijing.
"The bottom line for China is security," Armstrong said. "They are concerned about the nuclear issue and a factor of the human rights issue might be to push North Korea toward discussing denuclearization, which in some ways is easier to deal with."
North Korea views the UN's inquiry and resolution as being orchestrated by the United States, which it claims is attempting to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong-un.
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"The US and its followers are now unable to escape merciless punishment for daring impair the prestige of the DPRK and foolishly trying to bring down the socialist system," the NDC said in its statement.
In September, North Korea released a report declaring that its human rights record is stellar. North Korean authorities painted human rights as pertaining more to national sovereignty than individual liberties. The country views a nuclear arsenal as a way to maintain that sovereignty.
Tsutsumi, however, maintained "nuclear testing has nothing to do with this human rights resolution."
It remains unclear what moves, if any, the North Koreans are considering besides the atomic option — which no one quite takes seriously.
"They could open up the political camps for inspection then shut them down, but that's not going to happen in any North Korea we know," Armstrong added. "The only thing they have left is another nuclear test, and they have suggested that is what they will do. That may push the human rights issue to the side of the agenda."
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Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford
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