(ATTN: UPDATES with North Korean ambassador's remarks, other details from 10th para; ADDS photo)
NEW YORK, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- The United Nations passed a resolution Monday calling for accountability for gross human rights violations in North Korea.
The resolution was adopted by consensus at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, marking the 14th consecutive year such a document has passed the global body.
This time it happened in a year that saw brisk diplomacy with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Negotiations on denuclearization have stalled, and the resolution served to highlight the lack of progress also in addressing the serious human rights abuses blamed on Pyongyang's regime.
The General Assembly "condemns the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in and by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the resolution says, referring the North by its official name.
In particular it cites abuses the U.N. Commission of Inquiry said in 2014 could amount to crimes against humanity -- and the continuing impunity for such violations -- including torture, rape, public executions, and the use of the death penalty for political and religious reasons.
The assembly "encourages" the U.N. Security Council to "take appropriate action to ensure accountability," such as by considering referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.
It also calls on the council to consider further sanctions to "target effectively those who appear to be most responsible for human rights violations," an apparent reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The U.N. has repeatedly called for such action since 2014.
North Korea's top envoy to the U.N. rejected the allegations, calling them "most despicable false words" fabricated by a handful of defectors who escaped the country after having committed crimes.
He also attacked Japan, one of the two main authors of the resolution.
"My delegation expresses deep concern and surprise to the fact that criminal state Japan, which committed A-class crimes against humanity, such as kidnapping and forced drafting under sexual slavery in the past, is talking about human rights issue in the DPRK instead of liquidation of its dirty human rights records and official apology and compensation to victims," Amb. Kim Song said at the U.N. session.
This year's resolution contains reference to last December's U.N. Security Council resolution in which all U.N. member states are required to repatriate North Korean workers within two years.
The workers are thought to be a source of income for the North Korean government as it develops its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
The resolution welcomes "the ongoing diplomatic efforts," a likely reference to this year's historic summits between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in as well as U.S. President Donald Trump.
It notes the importance of dialogue and engagements for the improvement of the human rights situation.
On the issue of South and North Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, the resolution welcomes the resumption of reunions in August, and the commitments made at the September inter-Korean summit to fundamentally resolve the issue.
The text was jointly penned by the European Union and Japan, with contributions from other member states, including South Korea.
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