North Korean official Choe Yong-nam flew in to New York from Pyongyang to protest attempts by “hostile” elements, including America and Australia, to defame his country, but he was also forced to hear an earful about his country’s human rights record Wednesday.
In an extraordinary session at the United Nations, Choe and the UN ambassador from the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), Ja Song-nam, sat through a long session where the horrific human rights conditions in the repressive country were painstakingly detailed.
The most engaging speaker at the Wednesday session was Michael Kirby, a retired Australian High Court Justice who has led a UN-commissioned investigation into North Korea’s labor camps, its kidnappings and torture of dissidents and the policies that led to mass starvation in the country.
Last year Kirby was so shocked after hearing hundreds of testimonies from victims of the North Korean regime, that he proposed referring Pyongyang’s leaders, through the Security Council, to the International Criminal Court, where they could be tried for crimes against humanity.
For now, Australia, Botswana and Panama merely tabled a condemnation resolution at the Third Committee, which deals with human rights. But the Australian ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan [said] the Security Council path is still being considered as well.
But the most unusual feature of Wednesday’s UN session was that Pyongyang, often described as the seat of a “hermit kingdom,” decided to fully engage with the proceedings, answering criticism with verbal attacks on the critics.
Ambassador Ja gave a long formal answer to Kirby’s allegations, the North distributed a compact disc of materials to support his answers, and Ja and Choe patiently answered reporters’ questions afterward, speaking freely in fluent, plain English.
Choe said that his country has sent a letter of protest to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who happened to also be a former foreign minister of South Korea, which is still officially at war with its northern neighbor.