North Korea back online as UN body hears 'macabre lists' of atrocities

The UN Security Council openly discussed North Korea's gulag and human rights abuses, despite the efforts of Russia and China to block it. 

Frank Franklin II/AP
The United Nations Security Council listens to South Korea's UN Ambassador Oh Joon during a meeting Monday, Dec. 22, 2014, at the United Nations headquarters. The UN Security Council placed North Korea's bleak human rights situation on its agenda Monday, a groundbreaking step toward possibly holding the nuclear-armed but desperately poor country and leader Kim Jong-un accountable for alleged crimes against humanity.

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North Korea is back online after facing a nearly total internet shutdown for close to ten hours Monday, just days after the Hermit Kingdom was accused of hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment. In the midst of the cyber-standoff, Western ambassadors to the United Nations were busy calling for Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un to be tried for crimes against humanity in an unprecedented Security Council meeting.

A review by the UN found evidence of extreme human rights abuses like mass starvation, summary executions, rape, sexual enslavement, and forced abortions, according to The Associated Press.

“I would not run through the macabre lists of atrocities. This would make us all nauseated,” Luxembourg Ambassador Sylvie Lucas told the 15-nation council. 

Last Friday the UN General Assembly advised the Security Council to refer Mr. Kim to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Until this week the Security Council’s discussions about North Korea centered on nuclear weapons. Russia and especially China had opposed a Security Council airing of a UN investigation into human conditions in North Korea. However a vote on Monday made it possible for the Council to discuss all aspects of the country, reports Reuters.

Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, told the council that “rarely has such an extensive charge sheet of international crimes” been brought to the group’s attention. Mr. Simonovic urged member states to give the human rights situation in North Korea their “fullest attention and action.”

China’s ambassador, Liu Jieyi, argued that the council “should refrain from doing anything that might cause the escalation of tensions.”

North Korea sat out the meeting in protest, but sent a letter Monday that said the council was orchestrating “a politically motivated dangerous attempt to lay ground for an invasion of the DPRK [North Korea] under the pretext of ‘human rights’.”

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers was among those that spoke out against North Korea’s rights record: “Today we have broken the Council's silence. We have begun to shine a light, and what it has revealed is terrifying."

The so-called Hermit Kingdom is already involved in a confrontation with the United States over a suspected hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which was preparing to release a satirical film that included a depiction of Kim's death. North Korea did not claim responsibility for hacking into Sony's systems, but did refer to it as a “rightous deed,” reports The New York Times.

President Obama last week vowed to respond, despite many cybersecurity experts arguing there is inconclusive evidence linking North Korea, or any specific group, to the attack, reports The Christian Science Monitor’s Passcode.

North Korea was knocked offline for about 10 hours Monday, finally regaining connectivity early Tuesday morning, reports CNN. 

The US declined to say whether it was responsible for the Internet shutdown.

The North Korean Central News Agency, meanwhile, said it is "fully ready to stand in confrontation with the US in all war spaces including cyber warfare space.”

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