UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. member states condemned North Korea for what it sees as its "long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" in a resolution adopted Tuesday.
Speaking ahead of the adoption by the Third Committee, which deals with humanitarian and human rights issues, Japan's ambassador to the U.N., Koro Bessho, described the suffering of ordinary North Koreans and called out Pyongyang's history of abuse. Food shortages and the lack of medical care affect more than half of the population in North Korea, he said, citing poor infrastructure, inadequate sanitation and lack of clean water.
"However, despite the people's need and successive Security Council resolutions, the DPRK authorities continue to divert their resources into pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the welfare of its people," Bessho asserted, calling the North by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "I strongly urge the DPRK to heed the strong message of the international community embodied in this draft resolution, and take concrete steps toward resolving outstanding issues of serious human rights violations," he added.
The resolution, submitted annually by Japan and the European Union, took note of developments since the previous year's text, including new sanctions measures adopted by the U.N. Security Council this year. The latest document also placed particular emphasis on the abuse of non-citizens by North Korean authorities, urging the government to protect the rights, including freedom of communication, of foreigners detained in the North.
The death earlier this year of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was detained by authorities in 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster, highlighted the rampant human rights abuses against foreigners in North Korea. After more than a year in North Korean custody, he was returned to his family comatose, evidently suffering from brain damage. Warmbier died shortly after his return to the U.S.
North Korea's U.N. ambassador Ja Song Nam rejected the resolution outright, calling it "a product of the political and military confrontation plot and conspiracy of the U.S. and other hostile forces to the DPRK."
In remarks ahead of the adoption, Ja accused the U.S. of carrying out an "indiscriminate blockade under the pretext of implementing [Security Council] sanctions resolutions" and suggested such sanctions were hindering the delivery of medical equipment and medicine. Such sanctions from the U.S. are "a despicable violation of human rights and genocide crime," he said.
Late last month, U.N. special rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana -- tasked with investigating the human rights situation in North Korea -- expressed concerns that Security Council sanctions may be impeding the delivery of medical supplies to North Korean citizens. Ojea Quintana has been barred entry to the North by the authorities there and is conducting investigations into the matter from outside the country.