UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A draft resolution urges the U.N. General Assembly recommend the referral of North Korea to The Hague for crimes against humanity, prompting Pyongyang to take the unusual step of proposing its own text praising its human rights record.
If the call for a referral to the International Criminal Court remains in the draft that is put to a vote in the coming weeks, diplomats say it will likely lead to increased public pressure on Pyongyang over alleged rights abuses, though it could unsettle China, North Korea's principal protector.
Reuters on Thursday obtained a copy of the European draft as well as North Korea's letter to all 193 U.N. member states.
The 372-page U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, published in February, detailed wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including the use of prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities. The report's publication prompted calls among Western states and their allies for punitive action against Pyongyang.
The draft resolution, which Western diplomats said was prepared by the European Union and Japan and circulated to a small group of "like-minded countries," says the General Assembly "encourages the Security Council to consider ... referral of the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court."
It also urges "consideration of the scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity" in North Korea.
U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang are already in force for its repeated nuclear tests and missile launches. But since North Korea is not among the 122 member states of the ICC, only the Security Council could refer it to The Hague court, which looks at cases of serious war crimes like genocide and other crimes against humanity.
China, also not an ICC member, could not block a General Assembly resolution, but would be expected to use its veto power in the Security Council to knock down an ICC referral. Beijing's veto would likely have the support of Russia.
Unlike the Security Council, which can issue legally-binding resolutions and enforce compliance by imposing economic sanctions or authorizing military force, the General Assembly's resolutions are non-binding. But such resolutions can increase political pressure on the countries targeted by them.
General Assembly resolutions condemning North Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Syria have become an annual ritual, but this is the first time a North Korea resolution includes a recommendation for an ICC referral.
Diplomats said negotiations were continuing and the European text could change before it goes to a vote in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights.
If adopted by the Third Committee, the resolution goes to the General Assembly for formal approval in December.
As the Third Committee prepares to discuss North Korea in the weeks ahead, the country's U.N. mission is stepping up efforts to attack the report.
Earlier this week, Pyongyang offered U.N. delegations its report on its human rights record and repeated its dismissal of the U.N. inquiry's allegations of rampant human rights abuses as "wild rumors" peddled by "hostile forces."
Diplomats also said North Korea had for the first time sent a letter to all U.N. delegations proposing language to include in this year's resolution. The letter said the resolution should say the Assembly "takes note of the DPRK's free compulsory educational system and free medical care."
The North Korean proposal would also have General Assembly praise Pyongyang's own report on its human rights record presented to U.N. member states earlier this week.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, editing by G Crosse