The United States has denounced members of the United Nations Security Council for what it considers an attempt to protect North Korea from public scrutiny.
“Some council members are all too willing to shield the regime from accountability,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said at a meeting of the council on Friday.
Earlier, China had moved to block a live online broadcast of an informal Security Council meeting in which North Korea’s alleged human rights abuses were expected to be discussed.
Each of the Security Council’s 15 members has to agree before informal discussions are broadcast live. But China — North Korea’s most important ally in the region — issued a rare objection, though the public could still attend the meeting in person.
That prompted a rebuke from the US mission to the UN, which has previously clashed with China and Russia, another Security Council member, over discussions about human rights.
“We will continue to speak out against North Korea’s human rights abuses and threats to international peace,” the US mission tweeted. “They may be able to shut down the voices of the people in North Korea, but they cannot shut our voices down.”
Russia and China have argued against discussing human rights at the Security Council, pointing to the existence of another UN council dedicated to the issue.
Chinese diplomat Xing Jisheng, who heads the country’s mission to the UN, specifically blasted Friday’s meeting as “not constructive in any way”, given the rising tensions in the Pacific region.
North Korea said on Friday that its launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile the day prior was intended to “strike fear into the enemies” of its government, headed by Kim Jong Un.
The isolated communist state has conducted four missile launches in the span of about a week, citing “open hostility” from the US and its allies in the region.
North Korea carried out the launches as South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida met in Tokyo to mend ties between their two countries. The US and its allies have also been staging military exercises in the region.
“Instead of easing tension,” Xing said of Friday’s meeting, “it may rather intensify the conflict and therefore is an irresponsible move.”
He also dismissed the proposal to broadcast the proceedings on the UN’s WebTV platform as “a waste of UN resources”.
Russian diplomat Stepan Kuzmenkov echoed those criticisms in his statement to the Security Council, accusing the US of using human rights as a political tool. Russia was previously suspended from the UN Human Rights Council for alleged violations in Ukraine.
“The feigned hypocritical concern of the West about human rights in North Korea isn’t fooling anybody,” Kuzmenkov said. “Everybody knows full well that the US uses human rights to settle scores with governments not to their liking.”
The United States co-hosted Friday’s informal meeting with Albania. During its proceedings, Thomas-Greenfield called on the Security Council to make good on its “obligation to address North Korea’s gross human rights abuses”, which she said “put our collective peace and security at risk”.
The country has been under UN sanctions for its nuclear and missile programme since 2006.
“North Korea has chosen ammunition instead of nutrition, missiles over people,” Thomas-Greenfield later tweeted. “In doing so, it has threatened the global non-proliferation regime.”
The US ambassador also shared stories with the council from North Koreans who fled their country for fear of persecution.
One woman, she said, had been forced to watch a mother executed by gunfire in front of her husband and four-year-old child. Another had been captured twice before while trying to escape.
“What was extraordinary was that she decided to flee a third time in order to save her sons,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “But she carried a poison pill with her because, if she failed, she would rather die than be imprisoned and tortured again.”
North Korea has long denied human rights violations against its people, and it did not take part in Friday’s meeting. But Thomas-Greenfield argued for the importance of sharing defectors’ stories before the council.
“For every horrifying story we hear, there are countless stories that we will never hear, that will never see the light of day. This, of course, is by design,” she said.
“The regime in Pyongyang does everything in its power to hide its atrocities from the outside world. But time and time again, they have failed.”
The Security Council is set to discuss North Korea’s missile launches in a formal meeting on Monday.