By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Cuba, which was involved in a violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea last year, has come to the aid of Pyongyang to defend it against a Western-led push to bring its alleged human rights abuses to The Hague, envoys said on Wednesday.
A European-Japanese draft resolution submitted to a U.N. General Assembly committee that covers human rights recommends the referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. That resolution is tentatively scheduled to go to a vote on Nov. 18.
North Korea has lobbied at the United Nations for countries to oppose the resolution, dismissing it as part of a U.S.-led political plot to overthrow the country's leadership using falsified human rights criticism based on a U.N. inquiry report that alleged systematic torture, starvation and killings.
Cuba, which like North Korea is a member of the 120-country bloc of non-aligned states, has circulated to all 193 United Nations members an amendment to the draft resolution that calls for deletion of the language recommending that the Security Council consider referring Pyongyang to the ICC.
Havana proposes language that would replace ICC issue, according to a draft of the amendment obtained by Reuters: "Decides to adopt a new cooperative approach for the consideration of the human rights in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea."
Western diplomats said that it was likely both the EU-Japanese draft resolution and Cuban amendment will go to a vote next week, and the amendment has a chance of succeeding.
Cuba's military cooperation with North Korea raised eyebrows last year when the Chong Chon Gang ship was seized in Panama and found to be carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of Cuban sugar.
After the weapons were discovered, Cuba said it was sending "obsolete" Soviet-era weapons to be repaired in North Korea and then returned to Cuba. The Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee later blacklisted the ship's operator, Ocean Maritime Management, for violating the U.N. arms embargo.
Western diplomats said it was ironic that Cuba had taken up Pyongyang's defense at the United Nations.
"First the Cubans get caught red-handed violating Security Council sanctions on North Korea, and now they are going to try to cover for them in the Third Committee to water down the resolution on their human rights abuses," a U.N. diplomat said.
"But unlike the weapons stored in the well of the Chong Chon Gang, you can't sugar coat the atrocious human rights conditions in the DPRK (North Korea)," he added.