UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council took up the issue of North Korea's bleak human-rights situation for the first time Monday, a groundbreaking step toward possibly holding the nuclear-armed but desperately poor country and leader Kim Jong Un accountable for alleged crimes against humanity. North Korea quickly denounced the move.
The meeting appeared to be the first time that any country's human-rights situation has been scheduled for ongoing debate by the U.N.'s most powerful body, meaning that the issue now can be brought up at any time. It also came amid U.S. accusations that North Korea was behind a devastating hacking attack.
"Today, we have broken the council's silence. We have begun to shine a light, and what it has revealed is terrifying," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said.
World pressure grows
International pressure has built this year on Pyongyang after a U.N.-backed inquiry found grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed under policies "established at the highest level of the State for decades." In a letter to Kim, the commission also warned that he could be held accountable.
China and Russia, which hold veto power as permanent council members, protested the boldest effort yet to confront Pyongyang over an issue it has long disdained.
The council "should refrain from doing anything that might cause the escalation of tensions," said China's ambassador, Liu Jieyi.
An angry North Korea refused to recognize the meeting. "We totally reject the attempt" to bring the human rights issue to the council, North Korean diplomat Kim Song told the Associated Press shortly after the meeting began. He rejected the idea of dialogue or a visit to North Korea by a U.N. human-rights investigator, and he insisted that the council should look into Washington's recently released CIA torture report.
North Korea also has called the dozens of people who fled the North and aided the commission of inquiry "human scum."
Diplomats touched on the inquiry's more horrific details: Starving prisoners picking through cow dung for kernels of corn to eat. Rape. Forced abortions. Mass starvation. "I would not run through the macabre lists of atrocities," Luxembourg Ambassador Sylvie Lucas said. "This would make us all nauseated."
The U.N.-backed inquiry and the U.N. General Assembly have urged the 15-member council to refer North Korea's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court.