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US-NK human rights probe

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

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By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, March 22 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government said Friday that the creation of an independent U.N. body to look into North Korea's human rights abuses reflects the international community's interest in the problem.

"The United States commends the U.N. Human Rights Council for establishing an independent commission of inquiry (COI) to investigate North Korea's grave, widespread, systemic human rights violations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

A day earlier, the 47-member council voted to launch the commission under a resolution that condemns human rights violations reportedly prevalent in the communist nation, in particular in political prison camps. The resolution is co-sponsored by South Korea, Japan and the European Union.

The COI began work Friday on a one-year mission.

"We're pleased that this resolution passed by consensus, sending a message that the international community is paying very close attention to the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea," Nuland said.

The commission's mandate is a demonstration of the world's continued deep concern about the human rights situation in the North as well as support for justice for the North Korean people, she added.

Despite difficulties figuring out what's going on in the secretive nation, Nuland said, Washington has "severe, ongoing concerns about the human rights situation" there.

"That's why we have taken this investigative effort from the status of a simple special rapporteur to a full-up commission," she said.

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has been repeatedly denied entry into North Korea.

Pyongyang has also refused to cooperate with constant efforts by the U.N. and western civic groups to get detailed data on its human rights conditions.

Experts said the international community has reached a limit in its patience for tolerating North Korea's failure to cooperate with the U.N. in the human rights area.

"The establishment of the commission reflects long overdue recognition that a human rights‘emergency’ exists in North Korea," said Roberta Cohen, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

It also reflects an international willingness to move beyond mere censure in addressing North Korea's human rights violations, she added.

"The commission of inquiry should not be seen as an end in itself but rather as part of a larger strategy to promote human rights in North Korea," Cohen said.

The three-member COI plans to report the results of its probe to the U.N. General Assembly later this year and to the next session of the U.N. council in March 2014.

North Korea criticized the move as "political chicanery."

"We will as always totally reject and disregard the recent 'human rights resolution' against the DPRK (North Korea), a product of political confrontation and conspiracy," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said in an English-language statement carried by its formal news agency, KCNA.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/yonhap-news-agency/130322/us-nk-human-rights-probe-0