UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A U.S.-organized event on North Korea’s human rights briefly turned into chaos at the U.N. on Thursday as North Korean diplomats insisted on reading a statement of protest, amid shouts from defectors, and then stormed out.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, tried to quiet the diplomats at the event that featured more than 20 defectors. She later called North Korea’s statements “totally self-discrediting.”
The North Korean diplomats did not comment as they left the chamber after diplomat Ri Song Chol read out a statement in protest of the event, even as North Korean defectors stood and shouted in their faces.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has been on the defensive ever since a groundbreaking U.N. commission of inquiry detailed vast rights abuses there. North Korea has repeatedly referred to defectors who cooperated in the inquiry “human scum.”
Defectors stood up and shouted in Korean as Power and others called for calm and a U.N. security team assembled. An observer who speaks Korean said the shouts included “Shut up!” ”Free North Korea!” ”Down with Kim Jong Un!” and “Even animals know to wait their turn.”
“There is no need for a microphone,” Power said as one North Korean diplomat persisted in reading out a statement that referred to “ungrounded allegations” and “hostile policy” toward his country. A microphone was briefly turned on for the diplomats.
As soon as the next featured defector, Jay Jo, started speaking, the diplomats stood and walked out.
“They’re so rude,” Jo said later, adding that she wished that the diplomats had stayed so she could have spoken with them. The U.S. said North Korea had been informed before the event that it would have a chance to speak.
The brief chaos came minutes after U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic told the audience that North Korea had shown “new signs of engagement” on human rights issues in recent months.
But after the uproar, South Korean Ambassador Oh Joon told the crowd that “we thought there was a glimmer of hope … but the delegation of the DPRK today disappointed us. I think it’s a pity.” He was referring to the country’s official name, the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
International pressure last year led the U.N. Security Council to place the issue on its agenda of matters of international peace and security.
As the event came to a close, Power said the “true weapons of mass destruction” in North Korea was the tyranny of its government against its citizens.
Power also called on countries in the region, particularly China, to stop sending North Koreans seeking asylum back into the country, which was one of the inquiry’s concerns. China did not allow the commission of inquiry to visit China for its work.
“What is most striking here is not North Korea’s attempt to chill speech, but that its increasing willingness to export its policies, including the Sony Pictures hack, to the U.S,” said Daniel Aum a fellow with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights who attended the event.
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