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U.N. schedules debate on North Korea human rights

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.

“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.

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.

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. Permanent council members the U.S., France and the U.K. said it should be considered, but the council did not take action Monday.

Associated Press

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