April 30, 2015 / 6:24 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. criticizes North Korean diplomats for drowning out dissidents at UN

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States accused North Korea of bullying dissidents on Thursday after diplomats from the isolated Asian country disrupted statements by North Korean defectors on human rights abuses at an event at the United Nations.

Three North Korean diplomats attended the U.S. and South Korean panel on human rights in North Korea, and one began unexpectedly delivering a statement after defector Joseph Kim spoke about his father dying of starvation and enduring a childhood of poverty and hunger.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called for the microphone to remain off as North Korean diplomat Ri Song Chol delivered a six-minute statement. She warned that U.N. security would be called to remove the delegation.

The North Korean delegation left the U.N. conference room after concluding their statement.

Power said the North Korean diplomats were told they could speak after the three defectors had told their stories but "chose instead to try to drown out the testimony." The United States said 20 other defectors were also attending the event.

"It must be chilling for those of you have been subjected to the terror of the regime to be confronted with bullying and disruption and the kind of behavior that we saw today," Power said. "Such statements are totally self-discrediting."

A U.N. Commission of Inquiry report last year detailed abuses in North Korea that it said were comparable to Nazi-era atrocities. The U.N. Security Council added the issue of rights in North Korea to its agenda in December.

Nuclear non-proliferation in North Korea has long been on the council agenda. North Korea is under U.N. sanctions for repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests since 2006.

"The true weapon of mass destruction inside North Korea is the treatment of its people," Power said.

North Korean diplomat Ri said Pyongyang rejected all claims of rights abuses. It has been unusually active at the United Nations in New York and Geneva in fighting the allegations.

The U.N. General Assembly urged the Security Council in December to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court. But China, a strong ally of Pyongyang, is likely to veto any Security Council referral bid, diplomats say.

Defector Jay Jo, 28, broke down on Thursday as she spoke about the starvation and torture suffered by her family. "It makes my heart enraged whenever I think about the North Korean regime," she said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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