North Korea rights issue latest concern

March 22, 2013 at 11:39 AM

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 22 (UPI) -- Setting up a commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in North Korea is a breakthrough, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Thursday to establish a panel to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in North Korea.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure by a voice vote describing Pyongyang is among the most brutal regimes in the world. The measure said that "thousands" of North Koreans are subjected to forced labor, torture and death in work camps.

Human Rights Watch said as many as 200,000 people are in the North Korean gulag system.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville described the measure as a breakthrough.

"We see this as a major breakthrough, and it was good to see that it was adopted by consensus," he said in a statement. "No state abstained, no state voted against."

Human Rights Watch said North Korea has hidden a system of systematic abuses behind "bluster and defiance." U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued similar concerns in January when she described the country's human rights record as "deplorable."

The commission is mandated for a year.

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