SEOUL, South Korea—North Korea is angrily reacting to a landmark U.N. resolution on its widely condemned human rights record with a threat to bolster its 1.2 million-member military and conduct a fourth nuclear test.
This is not the first U.N. resolution to castigate North Korea over human rights, but it is the first to urge the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court, and it includes the idea that its autocratic leader, Kim Jong Un, could be targeted by prosecutors. The non-binding resolution will come before the U.N. General Assembly in the coming weeks after its human rights committee approved it Tuesday.
The suggestion that Kim could face prosecution has drawn a furious response from North Korea, which has long insisted it must develop long-range nuclear weapons to deter U.S. aggression.
It’s not still known if North Korea would carry out its threat to conduct an atomic test, but the dispute is expected to serve as another source of tension between it and Washington.
Here are looks at how countries view the U.N. resolution:
North Korea views outside criticism of its human rights record as a U.S.-led plot to overthrow its socialist government, a reason why it has long said it needs nuclear weapons. The country’s foreign ministry on Thursday repeated that view, saying the U.S. was behind this year’s U.N. resolution while the European Union and Japan served as “servants” for the U.S. by drafting it.
Analysts in South Korea say it’s unlikely that North Korea would follow through on its threats to detonate a nuclear device because that would invite more worldwide condemnation, undermining its recent push to lure foreign aid that could bolster its troubled economy.
But the country doesn’t always act as outside analysts predict, and a fourth nuclear test would mark another defiant response to international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The impoverished country conducted atomic bomb tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
The U.S. says the resolution has sent a clear message to North Korea that its egregious violations of human rights are not going unnoticed. It has also expressed its regret over the North’s threat to conduct a nuclear test.
Washington has persistently pushed to include human rights in its security dialogue with North Korea, despite anger from the North. The U.S. has set up a special envoy to deal exclusively with the issue and its diplomats regularly raise the matter at forums and to the media. That said, Washington is sometimes criticized for what opponents say is a tendency to focus on North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons at the expense of pressing concerns on rights abuse allegations.
China and Russia
China and Russia, which hold veto power on the Security Council, would likely block any effort to have the council refer North Korea’s rights issue to the international court. China is the North’s main ally and aid benefactor; Russia, which provided significant aid support to the country during Soviet times, maintains cordial ties with the North and wants to bolster them.
Both countries voted against the resolution.
Beijing and Moscow are wary of U.S. influence in Asia, but have been criticized for providing cover for North Korea on rights issues. China has been critical of North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests, saying they threaten the region’s stability, but its foreign ministry has made it clear that it’s opposed to the North Korean rights issue being taken to the international court.
Japan and South Korea
Japan has taken a lead role on the resolution in part because it is under political and domestic pressure to settle its own rights issue involving North Korea’s abduction of its citizens in the 1970 and ‘80s.
South Korea, like Japan a major U.S. ally, has welcomed the U.N. resolution’s approval and urged North Korea to take steps to improve its rights situation. But the issue of North Korean human rights is a source of divide for South Korea’s 50 million people. Proposed legislation aimed at improving North Korea’s rights situation has been stalled in the National Assembly for years because of a deadlock over how to respond. The ruling party wants to financially support anti-Pyongyang human rights groups in South Korea, while the opposition wants to provide large-scale food shipments to the North.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. More than 27,000 North Koreans have defected from their authoritarian homeland to avoid political oppression and poverty and have resettled in the South since the end of the war.
Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung and Foster Klug contributed to this report.