China, Russia fail to stop UN meeting on North Korea rights abuses

FILE PHOTO: Illustration picture of China and Russia flags

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -Life for North Koreans is a "daily struggle devoid of hope," the United Nations human rights chief told a Security Council meeting on Wednesday that Russia and China unsuccessfully tried to block.

The 15-member council last met on the issue in August 2023, which was its first public discussion since 2017.

The U.N. Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security. China and Russia argue that the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is the appropriate venue for discussions on human rights.

"It is not possible to divorce the state of human rights in the DPRK from considerations around peace and security in the peninsula, including increasing militarization on the part of the DPRK," U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk told the council.

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuses and blames sanctions for its dire humanitarian situation.

It has been under U.N. sanctions over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs since 2006, but there are aid exemptions. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia again called on Wednesday for a review of sanctions.

Gumhyok Kim - who grew up in an elite North Korean family - was visibly emotional as he described learning from the internet about rights abuses in his country while at university in Beijing. He had wanted to become a North Korean diplomat.

"The country that supposedly had nothing to envy in the world was nowhere to be seen. In its place were political prison camps with death from starvation, public executions and people risking their lives to escape," he told the Security Council.

"I realized the Kim family that I had to wanted to serve were not my heroes, but dictators denying ... people's freedom just to build their own power, wealth and honor," he said.

He began working with other North Korean students on a plan to go home and share what they had learned in the hope it could drive change. But North Korean officials discovered their plans and Kim fled to South Korea from Beijing in 2011.


China and Russia had tried to block the Security Council meeting by calling a procedural vote. The meeting had been requested by the United States, Japan, South Korea and Britain.

"Pushing the council to intervene in the human rights issue of the DPRK will not help to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. On the contrary, it will intensify antagonism and aggravate confrontation," China's deputy U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang told the council.

A minimum nine votes were needed to hold the meeting and China, Russia, the U.S., Britain and France could not wield their vetoes. Twelve members voted for the meeting on Wednesday, Russia and China voted against and Mozambique abstained.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said human rights abuses in North Korea were "inextricably linked" to Pyongyang's threats to international peace and security.

"The regime relies on forced labor and the exploitation of DPRK workers both domestically and overseas to develop weapons of mass destruction. What is shameful here is the obvious efforts by China and Russia to protect the DPRK," she said.

North Korea did not address the Security Council. But Venezuela's deputy U.N. Ambassador Joaquin Alberto Perez Ayestaran read a statement to reporters on behalf of a group of 18 states, including North Korea, China and Russia.

He said the Security Council should not be discussing human rights and commended North Korea for its efforts "in many fields, including on human rights, with the purpose of ensuring the wellbeing and prosperity of its people."

Between 2014 and 2017 the Security Council held annual public meetings on North Korean abuses. It held annual formal meetings behind closed doors on the issue between 2020-2022.

A landmark 2014 U.N. report concluded that North Korean security chiefs - and possibly leader Kim Jong Un himself - should face justice for overseeing a state-controlled system of Nazi-style atrocities.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Deepa Babington)