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The United Nations human rights council has set up an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea for the first time.

The UN council unanimously voted for the probe, which will examine allegations of prison camps, slave labor and food deprivation in North Korea.

North Korea denounced the resolution as a political ploy.

It is highly unlikely the team will be granted access to North Korea, so they will have to rely on satellite imagery and accounts from defectors.

North Korea’s human rights record will now be under intense scrutiny, and evidence gathered by the team could be used in future prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

UN special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, who presented the initial report on North Korea and will be a member of the inquiry, said that a key focus should be the country’s prison camps.

“The prison camps could qualify as crimes against humanity,” he said.

“These are camps which have the purpose of driving the people being detained there towards a slow death.”

Marzuki Darusman’s report also described “widespread and systematic violations of human rights” including enforced disappearances and using food to control people.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the UN had evidence indicating that North Korea’s political prisons held around 200,000 people, with many subjected to rape, torture and slave labor.

The UN human rights council has set up an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea for the first time

The UN human rights council has set up an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea for the first time

The resolution, which was presented by Japan and the European Union, was approved by all 47 members of the council.

“For too long the population of the country has been subjected to widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses,” Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said, speaking on behalf of the EU.

North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Pyong Se-so, called the resolution “a faked document full of political invective, with serious distortions.”

Pyong Se-so accused the council of seeking to “disgrace the image” of North Korea, adding that his country had “one of the best systems in the world for the protections of human rights”.

The inquiry has been welcomed by activists. In a statement, Human Rights Watch described the move as a “landmark step”, that would “help expose decades of abuse by the North Korean government”.

The probe comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula, following North Korea’s third nuclear test in February and the subsequent tightening of UN sanctions.

On Friday, the US voiced optimism that China would help enforce UN sanctions, a key part of which involves stopping money flow to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and illicit arms sales.

“We asked the Chinese for enhanced scrutiny of financial institutions in North Korea,” said US Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, who is visiting Beijing.

“It’s no secret that there is a fair amount of financial relationship between China and North Korea and Chinese financial institutions in North Korea.”

In recent days North Korean rhetoric against both the US and South Korea has escalated.

On Thursday, the North Korean army issued a statement threatening US military bases in Japan, in response to the US flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea as part of a joint military exercise.

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The Vatican has denied that Pope Francis I failed to speak out against human rights abuses during military rule in his native Argentina.

“There has never been a credible, concrete accusation against him,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, adding the Pope had never been charged.

Federico Lombardi blamed the accusations on “anti-clerical left-wing elements that are used to attack the Church”.

Former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, led Argentina’s Jesuits under the junta.

Correspondents say that like other Latin American churchmen of the time, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had to contend, on the one hand, with a repressive right-wing regime and, on the other, a wing of his Church leaning towards political activism on the left.

One allegation concerns the abduction in 1976 of two Jesuits by the Argentina’s military government, suspicious of their work among slum-dwellers.

As the priests’ provincial superior at the time, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was accused by some of having failed to shield them from arrest – a charge his office flatly denied.

The Vatican has denied that Pope Francis I failed to speak out against human rights abuses during military rule in his native Argentina

The Vatican has denied that Pope Francis I failed to speak out against human rights abuses during military rule in his native Argentina

Judges investigating the arrest and torture of the two men – who were freed after five months – questioned Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as a witness in 2010.The new Pope’s official biographer, Sergio Rubin, argues that the Jesuit leader “took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them”.

Another accusation leveled against Pope Francis I from the Dirty War era is that he failed to follow up a request to help find the baby of a woman kidnapped when five months pregnant and who was killed in 1977. It is believed the baby was illegally adopted.

Jorge Mario Begoglio testified in 2010 that he had not known about baby thefts until well after the junta fell – a claim relatives dispute.

Barack Obama is addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, where he is to say the US will “do what we must” to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Six weeks before the US election, Barack Obama is expected to say that a nuclear-armed Iran “is not a challenge that can be contained”.

Barack Obama condemned the violence that erupted over a “disgusting” anti-Islam video as “an attack on UN ideals”.

Unrest across the Middle East is set to dominate discussion the summit.

Recent protests across the Muslim world in response to the US-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, as well as Iran’s nuclear programme and the 18-month conflict in Syria, are likely to be high on the agenda.

Barack Obama is addressing the UN General Assembly in New York

Barack Obama is addressing the UN General Assembly in New York

Opening the meeting on Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the fighting in Syria as “a regional calamity with global ramifications”.

Ban Ki-moon called for action from the divided UN Security Council and said “the international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control”.

“Brutal human rights abuses continue to be committed, mainly by the government but also by opposition forces,” he added.

People did not look to the UN to be simply a mirror reflecting back a divided world, said Ban Ki-moon: Rather, they wanted to see it come up with solutions to problems.

Barack Obama was blunter in his assessment of Syria, saying Bashar Assad’s regime must end.

The US president opened his address with a tribute to the US ambassador to Libya murdered in Benghazi, challenging the UN to affirm that “our future will be determined by people like Christopher Stevens, and not by his killers”.

“Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations,” he said.

Barack Obama was to vow that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” with the backing of “a coalition of countries” holding Tehran accountable.

Although the White House said the president’s address should not be considered a campaign speech, it follows critical remarks about his foreign policy from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney condemned Barack Obama’s description of the murder of Christopher Stevens and three other Americans as “bumps in the road”. He has also castigated him for not taking time out to hold talks on Iran during the summit with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Barack Obama has rejected the Israeli leader’s calls for Washington to set Tehran “red lines”.

Benjamin Netanyahu has recently appeared on US television to press for a tougher line on Iran, and he will take the same message to the General Assembly on Thursday.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.

On the eve of the assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a UN meeting that Israel was a “fake regime”, prompting Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, to walk out.

Syria’s 18-month conflict is not formally on the General Assembly’s agenda but it is likely to be addressed by several speakers on the opening day. including French President Francois Hollande and Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Francois Hollande, in his first appearance at the assembly, is also expected to call for backing for an international force to be sent to the West African state of Mali to help dislodge Islamist militants who have taken over the north of the country.

The UN Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the Syria crisis and on Monday UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that the situation was “extremely bad and getting worse”.

While he did not have a full plan, he said he had “a few ideas”. Lakhdar Brahimi has just visited Damascus as well as refugee camps in neighboring Jordan and Turkey.

Diplomats have played down expectations for Lakhdar Brahimi’s mission, with no sign of fundamental divisions on the council being bridged.

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Presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye, the daughter of South Korea’s former leader Park Chung-hee, has apologized for human rights violations committed during her father’s rule.

Park Geun-hye is the ruling party candidate for presidential elections in December.

Park Chung-hee seized power in a military coup in 1961 and ruled until he was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979.

He boosted the economy but was accused of ruthlessly crushing dissent, delaying democratic development.

Park Geun-hye is the ruling party candidate for the South Korean presidential elections in December

Park Geun-hye is the ruling party candidate for the South Korean presidential elections in December

Park Geun-hye, 60, secured the ruling party nomination for the polls last month, marking the first time a woman has been chosen as a presidential candidate by one of South Korea’s main political parties.

But she has been battling her father’s legacy since the very beginning of her presidential campaign.

Park Chung-hee is credited with kick-starting South Korea’s economic success, but many younger and liberal voters see his human rights record as a blot on the country’s history.

Addressing a news conference, Park Geun-hye said her father had prioritized economic growth and national security issues.

“Behind the stellar growth were sacrifices by workers who suffered under a repressive labor environment,” she said.

“Behind the efforts for national security to protect [ourselves] from North Korea were human rights abuses committed by state power.”

Offering sincere apologies, she said: “I believe that it is an unchanging value of democracy that ends cannot justify the means in politics.”

Park Geun-hye remains ahead in opinion polls for the 19 December election.

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The King of Bahrain and Swaziland’s King Mswati III are among controversial monarchs expected at a Windsor Castle lunch being hosted by the Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.

Critics accuse Bahrain of human rights abuses and say Swazi king Mswati lives in luxury while his people go hungry.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell criticized the Queen for inviting “royal tyrants to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee”.

The Foreign Office said it was having “a full and frank discussion on a range of issues” with Bahrain’s government.

Buckingham Palace said it would not comment on the lunch.

It will be followed by an evening banquet, hosted by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Not all the monarchs will be at both events.

Peter Tatchell said the invitations were “a shocking misjudgement” that showed the Queen was “out of touch with the humanitarian values of most British people”.

“Inviting blood-stained despots brings shame to our monarchy and tarnishes the Diamond Jubilee celebrations,” he said.

“It is a kick in the teeth to pro-democracy campaigners and political prisoners in these totalitarian royal regimes.”

The King of Bahrain and Swaziland's King Mswati III are among controversial monarchs expected at a Windsor Castle lunch being hosted by the Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee

The King of Bahrain and Swaziland's King Mswati III are among controversial monarchs expected at a Windsor Castle lunch being hosted by the Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee

Bahrain officials said King Hamad al-Khalifa – whose country is in a state of civil unrest following crackdowns on protests last year – was expected to attend.

Last month, Bahrain Grand Prix organizers were urged to cancel the race amid public unrest in the country and accusations of human rights abuses.

And in April 2011, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa pulled out of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding amid controversy over human rights.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain was a “long-standing friend and ally of Bahrain”.

He added: “On human rights we support the reforms already under way in Bahrain and we want to help promote that reform.

“We have consistently encouraged the Bahraini government to take further urgent steps to implement in full the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry as His Majesty the King has committed to doing.

“This includes bringing to account those individuals responsible for human rights abuses.”

On Thursday, former Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane criticized Bahrain for doing “such terrible things to its own people since the Arab awakening a year ago”.

He said Arab nations “must let their citizens vote in free elections and let them speak without fear of arrest, torture or death”.

“The Foreign Office should protect the British Queen rather than expose her to having to dine with a despot.”

Anti-monarchist campaign group Republic believes the Queen and her aides have made a “catastrophic error of judgement” in inviting the Bahrani King.

Group chief executive Graham Smith said the Queen “has sent a very strong signal that the British royal family’s number one priority is other royals, even if they… oppress their own people”.

He added: “The Queen owes a personal apology to all those fighting for freedom in those countries – and to the families of those who have died doing so.”

On Wednesday, meanwhile, a group of UK-based Swazis protested outside the Savoy hotel, in London, where King Mswati – who is widely accused of profligate spending – is thought to be staying, with a delegation of 30 officials.

“The money he is using to feed these people could go a long way back home,” said Flora Dlamini from the Swaziland Vigil group.

King Mswati is rated by Forbes magazine as the world’s 15th richest monarch with a personal fortune of $100 million – while many of his 1.2 million subjects live in poverty.

Democracy campaigners also want Africa’s last absolute monarch to allow political parties and elections.

“If he is allowed to come, the British government is supporting his dictatorship,” Flora Dlamini said.

Saudi and Kuwaiti royals are also attending the banquet.

Amnesty international has recently highlighted repression in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities there crack down on protesters and reformists.

And Human Rights Watch has criticized Kuwait for the suspension of a daily newspaper and the conviction of its editor for incitement.

Meanwhile, Queen Sofia of Spain will not be attending because of a dispute over fishing rights off Gibraltar, a UK territory that Spain also claims.