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China said it would oppose any move to refer North Korean leadership to the ICC, while the United States welcomed the UN report.
North Korea's leaders should be brought before an international court for a litany of crimes against humanity that include exterminating, starving and enslaving its population, a UN team said Monday.
A hard-hitting report on the nuclear-armed totalitarian state also strongly criticized its denial of basic freedoms of thought, expression and religion, and its abduction of citizens of neighboring South Korea and Japan.
"Systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials," said the report by the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea set up in March 2013 by the UN Human Rights Council.
"In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the commission constitute crimes against humanity. These are not mere excesses of the state; they are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded," the report said.
"The gravity, scale and nature of these violations revealed a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
Commission chair Michael Kirby said the world could no longer plead ignorance as an excuse for a failure to act.
"At the end of the Second World War, so many people said: If only we had known... Now the international community does know," he said. "There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn't know."
North Korea calls evidence "fabricated"
North Korea refused to cooperate with the investigation, claiming the evidence was "fabricated" by "forces hostile" to the country.
Kirby wrote to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — the third ruler of the communist dynasty founded by his grandfather in 1948 — to give him a last chance to put his country's side.
In a January 20 letter, Kirby told Kim he could face justice personally for the crimes committed by the system he runs.
"Any official of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea who commits, orders, solicits or aids and abets crimes against humanity incurs criminal responsibility by international law and must be held accountable under that law," Kirby wrote.
China will oppose an ICC referral
China said Monday it would oppose any move at the United Nations to refer North Korea's leadership to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
In an unprecedented move, according to leaked reports, a three-member UN panel will later Monday recommend the referral of North Korea to the ICC in the Hague.
"I myself haven't seen the report, but our relevant position is clear-cut on this: issues concerning human rights should be solved through constructive dialogue on an equal footing," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.
"To submit this report to the ICC will not help resolve the human rights situation in one country," she added.
United States supports the report
The United States said Monday that a new United Nations report "clearly and unequivocally documents the brutal reality" of North Korea's human rights abuses.
Washington strongly welcomes and supports the report, "which provides compelling evidence of widespread, systematic, and grave human rights violations" by the reclusive regime, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.