TOKYO — North Korea’s appalling human rights record has become the latest barrier to a rapprochement between Pyongyang and Washington.
The North Korean government accused the United States this week of “stoking confrontation” by calling a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss human rights in the country, according to the Associated Press.
And the regime’s state media accused Washington of “inciting an atmosphere of hostility” toward North Korea at the United Nations in a bid to justify sanctions and as part of a plot to bring down the country’s “social system.”
The twin tirade is an example of how relations between Pyongyang and Washington have soured in recent months, since the high point of President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June.
The United States wants North Korea to hand over a list of its nuclear weapons and missile facilities and wants to maintain sanctions until denuclearization is complete. North Korea does not want to hand over a list and is instead demanding sanctions relief before it makes other concessions. For the moment, no talks are taking place.
Earlier this month, the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee adopted an annual resolution expressing deep concern “at the grave human rights situation, the pervasive culture of impunity and the lack of accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
The resolution was co-sponsored by 61 countries, including South Korea, and is certain to be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly next month for the 14th year in a row.
The U.N. Security Council has also discussed North Korean human rights in each of the past four years.
But North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, accused the United States and other, unnamed countries of “trying to employ all possible wicked and sinister methods” to hold a council meeting on Dec. 10 with an address by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
Kim sent letters to all council members except the United States, urging them to vote against holding the meeting, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the letter.
An equally angry commentary was published Monday in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers' Party of Korea, accusing Washington of using human rights to secure more concessions in talks about the North’s nuclear program.
“The U.S. has been saying that our ‘nuclear issue’ is the obstacle to an improvement in DPRK-U.S. relations,” the commentary said, using an abbreviation of North Korea’s official name. “But even if the issue is resolved, the U.S. will compel us to change our system as it requires, by suggesting a series of new incidental conditions including adherence to ‘human rights.’”
The United States is trying to accomplish “a wicked anti-republic plot,” the commentary by Ri Sung Gwon said.
In a similar English-language commentary issued Tuesday, the same author accused the United States and “vassal forces” of fabricating the U.N. resolution.
“This is, indeed, the height of shameless and coward acts,” he wrote.
Ri said the complaints about human rights were cooked up by defectors, describing them as “human scum who ran away after committing unpardonable crimes, who had turned their back upon their parents and children, and who would do anything for small amounts of money.”
The commentary also took issue with a recent report by Human Rights Watch that accused North Korean officials of committing sexual violence against women with apparent impunity.
Instead of the “groundless farce” of human rights accusations, the commentary concluded, Washington should understand North Korea’s strategic position, “face up to the changed trend of the times and behave with decorum.”
In October, the United Nations’ independent investigator on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, told the General Assembly that the human rights situation inside North Korea has not improved despite progress on peace and security this year.
In 2014, a report by a U.N. panel found “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations" in North Korea without parallel in the world, which in many cases constituted “crimes against humanity” and were the result of policies established “at the highest level” of the state.
These crimes included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearances and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.
Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.