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U.N. Debates North Korea Human-Rights Record
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 00:06:00 EST
North Korea’s internet access appeared to be restored Tuesday, nine hours after the country was hit by an outage. WSJ’s Ramy Inocencio speaks with Seoul reporter Jonathan Cheng.

UNITED NATIONS—The U.N. Security Council debated North Korea’s human-rights record for the first time on Monday after China failed to block the meeting.

The development, which is a rare instance of the U.N.’s most powerful body debating a country’s human-rights record, came after the Obama administration had sought China’s help in trying to stop alleged hacking attacks by North Korea.

And it came as the administration considers returning North Korea to the State Department’s terrorist list, where it would join Sudan, Syria, Iran and Cuba.

The Security Council meeting focused on a U.N. commission of inquiry report released earlier this year.

The commission interviewed North Korean refugees when Pyongyang blocked access to the country, catalogued “crimes against humanity,” including torture, rape, public executions, arbitrary detention, lack of due process, summary executions, the death penalty imposed for political and religious reasons, collective punishment and the “extensive” use of forced labor.

It also reported on forced population transfers, restrictions on citizens’ movement within the country and travel abroad. Pyongyang was also singled out for “severe” restrictions on freedom of thought, religion, assembly, and privacy.

Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program has been on the council’s agenda since 2006.

The Security Council session came as the FBI reported it has evidence of North Korean involvement in hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computers and threatening violence against cinemas that showed a Sony film, “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang denies the allegations, though it applauded the hacking after it became public.

With North Korean Internet communications passing through China, the Obama administration last week asked Beijing’s cooperation in stopping the alleged attacks. China’s foreign ministry confirmed it had spoken with Secretary of State John Kerry about the hacking and said it was opposed in general to cyberattacks.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, told the council meeting on Monday that North Korea “carried out a significant cyberattack on the United States in response to a Hollywood comedy portraying a farcical assassination plot.”

She said the cyberattacks “threatened Sony’s employees, actors in the film, movie theaters, and even people who dared to go to the theaters showing the movie.”

Ms. Power called it “exactly the kind of behavior we have come to expect from a regime that threatened to take ‘merciless countermeasures’ against the U.S. over a Hollywood comedy, and has no qualms about holding tens of thousands of people in harrowing gulags.”

Ms. Power said the commission’s findings “show North Korea for what it is: a living nightmare.”

In attempting to shield North Korea, China’s ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said the U.N. charter allows the council to meet only on matters that threaten international security.

“China is against the politicization of human-rights issues and against imposing pressure on other countries with the pretext of human rights,” he said. Mr. Liu didn’t mention the cyberattack.

Because there is no veto on a procedural vote, Beijing lost a rare bid to help its ally by blocking the meeting. There were 11 votes in favor, two against, and two abstentions; China and Russia cast the negative votes.

The General Assembly last week encouraged the Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court for prosecution, but China told the council it would veto any such resolution

North Korea’s representative didn’t address the council meeting, but Pyongyang dismissed the commission’s report, telling the Security Council in a letter on Monday the commission witnesses were “human scum bereft of even an iota of conscience.” Instead the North said the Security Council should meet on the U.S. Senate’s torture report.

Write to Joe Lauria at

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