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North Korea's Charm Offensive Doesn't Distract From Human Rights Record

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

North Korea has been on a diplomatic charm offensive, releasing three American prisoners and attempting to defend its human rights record. Well, these moves don't seem to be paying off. Today, a committee of the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution that puts North Korea's regime on a possible path to the International Criminal Court. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Ever since a U.N. commission of inquiry reported on abuses in North Korea that, it says, are unparalleled in the world, diplomats from the reclusive nation have been unusually active. They've shown up at U.N. meetings and dangled out the possibility of a visit by a U.N. investigator. A diplomat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Choe Myong Nam, told a general assembly committee today that North Korea wants dialogue and cooperation.

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CHOE MYONG NAM: Unfortunately, however, the European Union and Japan deliberately ignored our sincere efforts and chose to seek confrontation by enforcing the draft resolution against the DPRK.

KELEMEN: The resolution is nonbinding, but suggests that the U.N. Security Council refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court. Cuba tried to drop that reference to the ICC, and while it got support from China, Russia, Iran and others, Cuba's amendment failed. The U.S. representative, Elizabeth Cousens, says there must be some accountability.

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ELIZABETH COUSENS: We support dialogue, but we have also heard this before. We call on the government of the DPRK to stop committing human rights violations rather than merely offering words.

KELEMEN: Besides, North Korea's words and its charm offensive aren't always so charming.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: This video posted on a North Korean YouTube channel tries to discredit a defector, Shin Dong-huyk, who was born in a North Korean labor camp and managed to escape to tell his tale. The video features Shin's father urging him to stop lying. Param-Preet Singh, of Human Rights Watch, says Shin didn't even know his father was alive.

PARAM-PREET SINGH: And clearly, it's meant to both discredit and intimidate Shin away from his activism. And part of the reason why we honored him is because he remains one of the strongest voices on North Korea.

KELEMEN: Human Rights Watch honored Shin last night, according to Singh, who spoke to us during a break in the U.N. debate on North Korea. She says this year's discussion is really hitting a nerve with Pyongyang, mainly because of the tough report by the Commission of Inquiry.

SINGH: This report lays the blame for the devastating human rights situation in North Korea on the shoulders of the regime.

KELEMEN: And though China and Russia could still shield North Korean leaders from the ICC, Singh says a General Assembly resolution does send a signal to the Security Council - that it can't ignore North Korea's record of abuse. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.