Lawmaker backs UN on NKorea court referral

WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior Democratic lawmaker says he supports referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court after a U.N. commission of inquiry found evidence of crimes against humanity.

The comments by Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, come after a U.N. panel published results of a one-year investigation and warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians.

The Obama administration has voiced support for the commission's report, which will be reviewed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March. But it has yet to say whether the U.S. backs a referral to the court _ a step that China is very likely to oppose and has the ability to block because of its veto power in the U.N. Security Council.

China is a longtime ally of North Korea, and was also criticized by the commission for its repatriation of North Koreans who flee the country.

"I commend the U.N. panel for its extensive work investigating human rights abuses in North Korea, and I agree with the commission's decision to refer its findings to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution," Engel said in a statement. The House foreign affairs panel on which he sits oversees, but does not set, U.S. policy.

The U.N. commission of inquiry's report adds another irritant to relations between the West and North Korea, which has faced international sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs.

The commission, which was established by the U.N.'s top human rights body, detailed evidence of systematic executions, torture, rape and mass starvation, and political prison camps holding 80,000 to 120,000 people.

But it's unclear what diplomatic action will follow in response to its alarming findings. The U.S. is also looking to China to press North Korea over its nuclear program, particularly to urge the North to take concrete steps toward denuclearization, which the U.S. regards as a precondition for resumption of aid-for-disarmament negotiations.

Speaking Wednesday at the release of a separate report by two Washington-based advocacy groups urging more active U.S. diplomacy on North Korea, former lead U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said it would be counterproductive to include human rights issues in already difficult diplomacy on the nuclear program.

But he supported referring the commission's report to the U.N. Security Council _ a necessary step for any referral to the International Criminal Court _ to test China's reaction.

"The abuses that have been catalogued in this report need to be addressed, and I don't think it's acceptable for a country with global responsibility, a category that I'd put China in, to just say it's some kind of report that puts together rumors and innuendo," Hill said. "I think the Chinese need to speak clearly on this report."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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