UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea on Thursday said it has invited European Union's top human rights official to visit the country, but it threatened to drop recent offers of visits by United Nations rights officials unless a U.N. resolution on the country removes any reference to the International Criminal Court before Saturday.
North Korean diplomat Kim Un Chol told The Associated Press that the visit by the EU official, Stavros Lambrinidis, is expected next March.
"We have already sent the invitation letter," Kim said.
He also handed out a press statement that said, "We have also agreed to the visit of our country by the Special Representative for Human Right of European External Action Service," the name for the EU's diplomatic service.
The European Union's mission to the U.N. was not immediately available for comment Thursday evening. But an EU official in Brussels earlier this month confirmed that Lambrinidis recently had met with a North Korean representative.
North Korea has been on the defensive since a U.N. commission of inquiry early this year detailed what it said were vast human rights abuses in the impoverished but nuclear-armed country and warned that leader Kim Jong Un could be held accountable.
The new EU-Japan resolution at the U.N. echoes the report's recommendations, saying the Security Council should refer North Korea's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. Although ally China, a permanent council member, has signaled it would veto such a move, Pyongyang has been unnerved that international attention to its dismal human rights record hasn't seemed to fade.
For North Korea to offer any dialogue on human rights, a topic which its government until recently would not discuss, is seen as significant by the international community. But such an offer is also greeted with skepticism. One U.N. diplomat this week, asked what assurance countries have that Pyongyang will follow up on its word, said simply, "None."
Param-Preet Singh, a senior counsel for Human Rights Watch, said the U.N. special rapporteur made it clear in his report to the General Assembly this week that nothing had changed in North Korea's human rights situation since the commission of inquiry's findings.
"The bottom line is this: Empty promises should not distract the international community from its responsibility to bring those responsible for the worst crimes in North Korea to justice," Singh said. "Accountability is simply not negotiable."
Some of North Korea's recent gestures have been surprising.
This week, North Korean officials met with the U.N. special rapporteur on that country for the first time since the post was created 10 years ago, and said they "envisaged" his visit. They also floated the idea of a visit by the new U.N. high commission for human rights.
On Thursday, Kim Un Chol said those two offers "will be cancelled" if the language on the ICC isn't dropped from the EU-Japan resolution by the weekend. The resolution already has been submitted in the General Assembly's human rights committee, though its language can be changed right up until the committee votes on it next month.
He said the resolution showed a "path of confrontation" and called for greater flexibility on the part of the EU.
North Korea broke off a previous human rights dialogue with the EU in 2003.