The United States has denounced members of the United Nations Security Council for what it sees as 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 taken steps to block a live online broadcast of an informal Security Council meeting that was expected to discuss North Korea’s alleged human rights abuses.
Each of the 15 members of the Security Council must agree before informal discussions are broadcast live. But China – North Korea’s main ally in the region – raised a rare objection, though the public was still able to attend the meeting in person.
That led to a rebuke from the US mission to the UN, which previously clashed with China and Russia, another member of the Security Council, over human rights discussions.
“We will continue to speak out against North Korea’s human rights violations and threats to international peace,” the US mission tweeted. “They may be able to silence the voices of the people of North Korea, but they can’t silence our voices.”
Russia and China have argued against discussing human rights in the Security Council, pointing to the existence of another UN council dealing with the issue.
Chinese diplomat Xing Jisheng, who heads the country’s mission to the UN, specifically called Friday’s meeting “not constructive in any way” given rising tensions in the Pacific region.
North Korea said on Friday that the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile the day before was intended to “instill fear in the enemies” of its government, led by Kim Jong-un.
The isolated communist state has carried out 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 when South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met in Tokyo to restore ties between their two countries. The US and its allies are also conducting military exercises in the region.
“Instead of easing tension,” Xing said of Friday’s meeting, “rather, the conflict could be intensified and therefore it is an irresponsible move.”
He also rejected the proposal to broadcast the proceedings on the UN’s WebTV platform as “a waste of UN resources”.
Russian diplomat Stepan Kuzmenkov repeated that criticism 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 West’s feigned hypocritical concern for human rights in North Korea does not fool anyone,” Kuzmenkov said. “Everyone knows very well that the US uses human rights to settle scores with governments they don’t like.”
The United States co-hosted Friday’s informal meeting with Albania. During the proceedings, Thomas-Greenfield called on the Security Council to honor its “obligation to address North Korea’s gross human rights violations,” which it says “endanger our collective peace and security.”
The country has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and missile program.
“North Korea chose munitions over food, missiles over people,” Thomas-Greenfield later tweeted. “Because of this, it has threatened the global non-proliferation regime.”
The US ambassador also shared stories with the council of North Koreans fleeing their country for fear of persecution.
A woman, she said, had been forced to watch as a mother was executed by gunfire in front of her husband and four-year-old child. Another had been captured twice before trying to escape.
“What was extraordinary was that she decided to run for the third time to save her sons,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “But she carried a poison pill because if she failed, she would rather die than be imprisoned and tortured again.”
North Korea has long denied human rights abuses against its people and did not participate in Friday’s rally. But Thomas-Greenfield argued for the importance of sharing defector stories for the congregation.
“For every horrific story we hear, there are countless stories we will never hear, that will never see the light of day. This is of course designed that way,” she said.
“The regime in Pyongyang is doing everything it can to hide its atrocities from the outside world. But time and time again they have failed.”
The Security Council will hold a formal meeting on Monday to discuss North Korea’s missile launches.