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GENEVA — A Geneva-based human rights group today called on the US and the EU to strongly protest the U.N.’s appointment of North Korea as head of its Conference on Disarmament, a 65-member arms control forum. (For the official UN announcement, see “Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea Assumes Presidency Of The Conference On Disarmament.”)

“Bare months after the U.N. finally suspended Libya’s Col. Muammar Qaddafi from its Human Rights Council, North Korea wins the propaganda coup of heading the world’s disarmament agency,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “It’s asking the fox to guard the chickens, and damages the U.N.’s credibility.”

“While the U.N. will likely defend North Korea’s appointment as simply an automatic rotation,” said Neuer, “no system should tolerate such a fundamental conflict of interests. It’s common sense that a disarmament body should not be headed by the world’s arch-villain on illegal weapons and nuclear proliferation, notorious for exporting missiles and nuclear know-how to fellow rogue regimes around the globe.”

The UN Security Council has repeatedly condemned North Korea for launching rockets, and has imposed sanctions related to its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. Earlier this month, the US Navy intercepted a North Korean ship suspected of illegally carrying missile parts to Burma.

The Conference of Disarmament reports to the UN General Assembly and is billed by the UN as “the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.”

According to a UN summary, North Korea’s So Se Pyong assumed the presidency yesterday, assuring the panel that he was “very much committed to the Conference.” He invited proposals to strengthen “the work and credibility of the body,” and said he would do “everything in his capacity to move the Conference on Disarmament forward.”

“All of the delegations who took the floor,” reported the UN’s summary, welcomed the North Korean’s presidency, and said that “they looked forward to his stewardship” and to working with him “to revitalize and strengthen the Conference.” Those listed as having taken the floor were Canada, the UK, India, China, Nigeria, Portugal, Iran, Myanmar, Algeria, and UN official Jarmo Sareva.

According to the UN summary of speeches, China’s Wang Qun “welcomed the presidency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Nigeria’s Kayode Laro said “the presidency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would have the full support of the Nigerian delegation.”

In an earlier meeting last week, Iran’s Mohammad Hassan Daryaei said, “I would also like to congratulate the distinguished ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the assumption of the presidency and assure him of my delegation’s full support and cooperation.”

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