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UN Investigator Asks China to Help Prosecute North Korea for Human Rights Violations

The UN's head investigator for human rights in North Korea made a plea to the Chinese government to back efforts to bring the Hermit Kingdom before the Hague.
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The UN's head investigator for human rights in North Korea made a plea to the Chinese government Sunday to back the organization's efforts to bring the Hermit Kingdom before the Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

China, a protector of North Korea in UN council affairs, can use its veto to prevent the results of a 372-page inquiry into human rights crimes from being brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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But that's not necessarily what's going to happen, according to Michael Kirby, a former Australian judge, who presided over the recent human rights abuse investigation in North Korea and the resulting book-length report.

"I don't think a veto should be assumed," Kirby told Reuters. "China is a very great power with great responsibilities as a permanent member. Veto is not the way China does international diplomacy. China tends to find another way."

Kirby also pointed out that China is limited to 10 vetoes, which is low in comparison to the number held by the other four permanent members of the 15-nation security council.

"We continue to (work) in hopes that China, as a great power, will act as a great power should," he said.

But Chinese authorities over the weekend emphasized that communication is the key to resolving human rights issues, which is preferred over dragging such matters before the ICC.

"We have always supported dealing with human rights differences through dialogue and cooperation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press briefing in Beijing.

"We believe that for the issue of human rights, referring a case to the ICC is not helpful to improving a country's human rights situation."

North Korea matched Kirby's inquiry released earlier this year by producing its own 53,000-page report last month claiming that it enjoys the best human rights regime of any country.

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North Korea leads the world in human rights, says report by North Korea. Read more here.

The UN report found the state was responsible for "unspeakable atrocities," including murder, enslavement, systematic torture, rape, starvation, and summary imprisonment committed against its citizens.

"The gravity, scale, and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," the UN report concluded.

North Korean officials had previously stated that the report and investigation as a whole was simply a "marionette" of the US and allies in a scurrilous attempt to debase its people and undermine the regime.

North Korea's UN delegate Kim Song echoed those sentiments at a council meeting over the weekend saying the report was "confrontational" and a "product of political conspiracy of the United States and hostile forces."

The UN General Assembly's Third Committee, which addresses human rights, will soon be presented with a draft resolution prepared by the European Union and Japan, which outlines the reasons why North Korea should be taken before the ICC.

North Korea also drafted its own resolution in response, again commending its human rights record.

"The United Nations is about to meet a moment of truth," Kirby said. "The essential question will be whether the United Nations will stay the course and adhere to making the principle of accountability of great crimes a reality."

VICE News' Samuel Oakford contributed to this report.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter:@lianzifields

Photo via Flickr