UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council on Wednesday was meeting for the second time in a week on North Korea’s increasing ballistic missile and nuclear-related activities, this time at the request of the United States, which effectively blocked a council discussion on the North’s dismal human rights situation.
Stephen Biegun, the Trump administration’s special representative for North Korea, was scheduled to address Wednesday afternoon’s open council meeting. It was taking place less than three weeks before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s end-of-December deadline for the U.S. to come up with new proposals to revive nuclear diplomacy.
Negotiations faltered after the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities at a second summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader last February. North Korea has hinted at lifting its moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests if the Trump administration fails to make substantial concessions before the new year.
North Korea has carried out 13 ballistic missile launches since May and on Sunday it said it had performed a “very important test” at its long-range rocket launch site. South Korea’s defense minister said Pyongyang tested a rocket engine. He did not elaborate but there is wide speculation that the test involved a new engine for either a space launch vehicle or a long-range missile.
The United States holds the Security Council presidency this month and some diplomats have been puzzled at its refusal to sign a letter that would have authorized the Security Council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea — after it say it would. Without U.S. support, diplomats said European and other countries that wanted the U.N.'s most powerful body to discuss human rights in North Korea couldn’t go ahead with a meeting that had been expected Tuesday because they were one vote short of the minimum nine votes required.
Instead, A U.S. State Department spokesperson, asked about the human rights meeting, said Monday the U.S. Mission to the United Nations would seek a council discussion this week that would include “a comprehensive update on recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, including recent missile launches and the possibility of an escalatory ... provocation” by North Korea. The State Department made no mention of human rights.
The Security Council discussed the human rights situation in North Korea from 2014 through 2017, but skipped 2018.
Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, said the U.S. had prevented council scrutiny of North Korea’s “abysmal” rights record for a second year in a row, “sending a clear message to Pyongyang and other abusive governments that the U.S. is prepared to look away regarding rights violations.”
“North Korea has always hated the annual Security Council meetings focused on its widespread use of arbitrary detention, starvation, torture and other crimes against the North Korean people,” he said.
“Kim Jong Un and other senior North Korean officials will undoubtedly be elated they can duck U.S. criticism of their human rights record once again this year," Charbonneau said. “In the meantime, the rest of the Security Council should find a way to resume the North Korea human rights meetings even without the Trump administration’s support.”
North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, sent a letter to all council members except the U.S. last Wednesday warning that holding a meeting on its human rights would be “another serious provocation” resulting from America’s “hostile policy.” Kim said a meeting would increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and the North would “respond strongly to the last.”
The Europeans called for closed-door council consultations last Wednesday on the North’s latest missile test on Nov. 28.
The council did not issue any statement, but its five European members and Estonia, which will join the council in January, afterward condemned North Korea’s 13 “provocative” ballistic missile launches since May, saying they violate Security Council resolutions and “undermine regional security and stability as well as international peace and security.”
The Europeans again urged North Korea “to engage in good faith in meaningful negotiations with the United States aimed at denuclearization.”
The United States did not join its usual allies.
Ambassador Kim followed up with a statement Saturday saying that denuclearization — a key U.S. demand — is off the negotiating table, and that his country doesn't need to have lengthy talks with the United States.
The U.N. envoy’s comments follow other recent North Korean statements indicating that prospects are dim for a resumption of U.S.-North Korea nuclear diplomacy.
Trump considers the opening of talks with North Korea a foreign policy achievement, and U.S. officials have indicated he would like to see Kim Jong Un abandon nuclear weapons before the 2020 election.
The dismal human rights situation in North Korea has been condemned for many years in resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly and has been sharply criticized by the U.N. special investigator on the rights situation in the country.
The assembly’s human rights committee unanimously approved a draft resolution last month condemning North Korea for “ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights,” including those that a U.N. commission of inquiry says may amount to crimes against humanity.
The 193-member General Assembly is virtually certain to adopt the draft resolution later this month.