NK leader asks Putin to affect human rights debate: official
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEOUL, Nov. 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to exert influence to help silence international debate on his country's dismal human rights record, a South Korean official said Friday.
The rare move comes after a U.N. General Assembly committee passed a resolution on Tuesday calling for the referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations.
The resolution is the latest of several examples of diplomatic pressure on North Korea over its human rights conditions.
Kim asked Russia to "exert influence to ensure the human rights issue will not be raised at the United Nations and in the international community again," the official said, citing the gist of a letter to Putin from Kim.
The official said South Korea obtained the gist of the letter delivered to the Russian leader through Kim's special envoy, Choe Ryong-hae.
Choe met with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday in a trip that underscored Pyongyang's attempts to reach out to Russia for diplomatic and other support amid strained relations with China.
The resolution came nine months after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry suggested that the U.N. Security Council should refer the issue of North Korea's human rights to the International Criminal Court to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity.
After a yearlong probe, the high-profile commission said in a report in February that North Korean leaders are responsible for "widespread, systematic and gross" violations of human rights.
The Commission of Inquiry was created by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in the North.
On Friday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said international support and cooperation is vital to improve North Korea's human rights conditions, noting ordinary North Koreans are "facing hunger and a tragic human rights situation."
She made the comments in a meeting with officials of the International Democrat Union, an international alliance of political parties.
The chances of North Korea being referred to the ICC are slim because U.N. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, and the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to approve the resolution as China and Russia, two veto-wielding powers of the council's five permanent members, are likely to veto it.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after meeting Choe in Moscow that the resolution is "counterproductive."
North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds possibly as many as hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.
Pyongyang has bristled at any talk of its human rights conditions, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime. Kim expressed hope to upgrade his country's ties with Russia and to quickly hold talks with Putin, according to the account of Kim's letter.
Kim has not met with any foreign leaders since 2011 when he took power upon the death of his father and long-time leader Kim Jong-il.
Kim also reportedly asked Putin to provide economic aid to North Korea and support North Korea in case the North pursues economic reform.
North Korea has so far rejected international calls to embrace reforms.