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By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS/LONDON, March 21 (Yonhap) -- A United Nations body voted Thursday to embark on a formal investigation into human rights violations in North Korea, a move viewed as largely symbolic but significant in sending a message to Pyongyang.
In a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry on North Korean Human Rights for a one-year mission. The time of its operation can be extended.
It is required to report the results of its probe to the U.N. General Assembly later this year and the next session of the U.N. council in March the following year.
The resolution condemns human rights abuses known to be prevalent in North Korea, including torture in political prison camps.
The top North Korean envoy in Geneva, So Se-pyong, said his country can't accept the resolution. He argued that it has a political purpose to damage North Korea's international image.
South Korea welcomed the U.N. move.
"It is meaningful that the resolution adopted this time includes the creation of the investigation commission and it was approved by consensus," said South Korea's ambassador to Geneva, Choi Seok-young.
Unlike previous resolutions by the U.N. council on the North Korean human rights record, he added, the new one calls for a far-reaching probe into the problem.
In Washington, U.S. officials said they supported the council's move as Washington continues efforts to promote human rights worldwide.
Joe Yun, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said "North Korea is a case in point."
"North Korea's nearly 25 million people are in dire need of improvement of their welfare, protection of human rights. And that remains an essential goal of our overall North Korea policy," Yun said at a congressional hearing.
Daniel Baer, deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, noted Washington has supported the U.N. council's adoption of a commission of inquiry into the North Korea problem.
"Even in addressing particularly difficult situations like North Korea, the United States has continued, with our international partners, to demonstrate our concern about the regime's abuses and our compassion for the North Korean people," he said during the session, organized by the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a separate statement applauding the creation of the commission.
"Monitoring and communicating to the world North Korea's horrendous human rights abuses is long overdue," he said. "We should do everything we can to shine a light into this dark prison. This latest action sends a clear message to the regime -- your crimes against humanity will not go unnoticed by the world."
Western civic groups also hailed the resolution.
"This long awaited inquiry will help expose decades of abuse by the North Korean government," Julie de Rivero, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Amnesty International, headquartered in London, urged North Korea to fully cooperate with the upcoming investigation into "grave, systematic and widespread human rights violations in the country."
"The Commission of Inquiry is a positive step towards addressing the dire human rights situation in North Korea," said Rajiv Narayan, a North Korea researcher for Amnesty International. "U.N. member states have today sent a clear message to the North Korean authorities that those responsible for crimes against humanity will ultimately be held to account."
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