White House, Congress call for UN human rights probe on North Korea

Congress and the Obama administration launched a concerted effort calling on the United Nations to investigate North Korea's “grave, widespread and systematic violations of human rights” in the wake of the country's third nuclear test.

The Senate Foreign Relations panel adopted legislation Thursday urging the administration to press for further sanctions at the U.N. Security Council and to request that the U.N. Human Rights Council establish an “inquire mechanism” into human rights abuses, as recommended by the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman. The bill passed after the phrase “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of force against North Korea” was added to placate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

And House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) raised the issue of the 200,000 prisoners believed to be in North Korea's gulags when he hosted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

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“North Korea is in a class by itself in terms of human rights abuses," Royce said in a statement after their meeting. "We should convene a Commission of Inquiry in the Human Rights Council.  It is time to shine a light on the Kim regime’s horrific human rights abuses."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland made similar comments during her daily briefing Thursday.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea],” she said. “We do support the establishment of enhanced mechanisms of inquiry into the DPRK's human rights violations at the U.N. Human Rights Council's upcoming session. 

“We continue to work actively with our partners and to work closely with international organizations, including by co-sponsoring resolutions in the Human Rights Council and the [General Assembly], to raise attention and to seek redress with regard to the deplorable human rights conditions in the DPRK And we also support the work of the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, whom the DPRK authorities have continued to deny access into the country.”