11/01/2013 03:56 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Canada blasts North Korea, and North Korea blasts back at UN panel

OTTAWA - North Korea, one of the world's worst human-rights abusers, used a United Nations committee this week to publicly denounce Canada's rights record.

The incident is another example of a trend that fuels the Harper government's disdain for the UN — despotic, rights-abusing countries using the world body as a podium to bash their democratic critics.

A North Korean diplomat called Canada a land of broken promises, saying Ottawa has no right to criticize others because it has been accused of mistreating immigrants, aboriginal women and children.

The diplomat was responding to earlier criticism of North Korea by Canada and the United States at Wednesday's session of the UN's social, humanitarian cultural affairs committee.

Earlier in the meeting held in New York, Guillermo Rishchynski, Canada's ambassador to the UN, condemned the closed, totalitarian state.

"Canada and Canadians are deeply disturbed by the existence in North Korea of total control zones and labour camps, and the use of collective camps and coercive measures that target the rights of persons with disabilities including forced medical testing," the diplomat said.

Rishchynski called on North Korean leaders to stop abusing their citizens.

He said average North Koreans continue to suffer "under the yoke of oppressive Kim dictatorships," a regime that he said "propagates absurdities, removed from reality."

Rishchynski reiterated a call for the UN Security Council to press on with a full set of sanctions against the regime.

The North Korean delegate responded about two hours later, after being given the floor at the end of the nearly three-hour meeting.

"My delegation totally rejects the politically motivated allegations made by the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union," said diplomat Kim Song.

"Canada is not in a position to argue (on) the human-rights situation in other countries since Canada is a land of broken promises."

He cited Canada for its "racial discrimination, maltreatment of immigrants, psychological and physical mistreatment of native women and children."

He also said the U.S. should deal with its own "appalling" human-rights record before criticizing others.

Rishchynski singled out the Iranian regime for a series of abuses of its people, including crackdowns on women and religious minorities.

"Over 100 members of the Baha'i faith alone remain imprisoned on charges related to the practice of, and organizing for, their religion and advocating for their rights," he said.

The Iranian authorities continue to place serious restrictions on the rights of their citizens, including by severely limiting freedom of assembly, freedom of opinion, freedom of association and freedom of expression.

Canada has made advocacy of religious freedom around the world a pillar of its foreign policy.

In September, Cuba, Iran, Belarus and Russia used a session of the UN human rights council to criticize Canada's treatment of aboriginals.