By Edith M Lederer
The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution denouncing widespread human rights violations in North Korea ranging from public executions to severe restrictions on freedom of expression, religion and assembly.
The 193-member world body scheduled the vote before the announcement late Sunday that North Korea leader Kim Jong Il had died.
The nonbinding resolution strongly urges the government in Pyongyang to immediately put an end to the "systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights".
It expresses serious concern at North Korea's use of public executions, arbitrary detentions and the death penalty for political and religious reasons. It accuses North Korea of violating the economic, social and cultural rights of its people and putting severe restrictions on many freedoms, including the right to travel inside and outside the country and the right to privacy.
The resolution was approved by a vote of 123-16, with 51 abstentions - stronger support than last month's vote in the assembly's human rights committee, which approved the draft resolution by a vote of 112-16 with 55 abstentions.
North Korea "categorically" rejected the resolution, calling it a politically motivated document based on "fabrications" and designed to increase international pressure on the country.
The unidentified North Korean diplomat who spoke made no mention of Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 69.
The resolution expresses regret at North Korea's failure to implement UN recommendations after the country allowed the UN Human Rights Council to review its rights record in March 2010.
It urges the North Korean government to allow the UN Human Rights Commission's independent rights investigator to visit the country.
The resolution says rights violations "have led to severe malnutrition, widespread health problems and other hardship for the population," especially women, children and the elderly.
This is the result of frequent natural disasters, weaknesses in agricultural production, government restrictions on cultivating and trading food items and "the prevalence of chronic and acute malnutrition," the resolution said.