The crimes of North Korea's regime are as chilling as those of the Nazis, South Africa's apartheid regime or Cambodia's Khmer Rouge and must be stopped, the head of a UN inquiry said on Monday.
"Contending with the great scourges of Nazism, apartheid, the Khmer Rouge and other affronts required courage by great nations and ordinary human beings alike," Michael Kirby told the UN Human Rights Council.
"It is now your solemn duty to address the scourge of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," he said.
His comments followed a searing 400-page report, released last month, that documented a range of gross human rights abuses in the country, including the extermination of people, enslavement and sexual violence.
- 'World ignored evidence'-
"The gravity, scale, duration and nature of the unspeakable atrocities committed in the country reveal a totalitarian state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," Kirby said.
"The country is a dark abyss where the human rights, the dignity and the humanity of the people are controlled, denied and ultimately annihilated."
The report insisted North Korea's leaders should answer for a litany of crimes against humanity before an international court.
"The world has ignored the evidence for too long," Kirby insisted, adding: "There is no excuse, because now we know."
North Korea, which refused to cooperate with the commission, has "categorically" rejected its report.
The country's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, So Se Pyong slammed the findings as "shameless fabrications" by "the United States and other hostile forces".
The commission, created in March 2013 by the Human Rights Council, was denied access to North Korea and relied on hearings in South Korea and Japan with 320 North Korean exiles.
The report condemned a system of throwing generations of the same family into prison camps under guilt-by-association rules, with testimony from former guards, inmates and neighbours.
There are an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in North Korea, a nation of 24 million people.
Hundreds of thousands of others were believed to have perished in the camps over the past half century, "gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture," the report said.
"If this report does not give rise to action, it is difficult to imagine what will," Kirby said Monday.
- N.Korean ambassador marches out -
The report also estimated 200,000 people from other countries had been abducted -- mostly South Koreans left stranded after the 1950-1953 Korean War, but also hundreds from around the world since then.
North Korean representative So marched out of the Human Rights Council in protest when Japan allowed Shigeo Iizuka, the head of an organisation representing abductees' relatives to take the floor.
Describing the case of his younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in 1978, he said: "She pleaded desperately to be returned to Japan for the sake of her infant children."
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that it abducted about a dozen Japanese nationals over the two decades and said eight of them, including Taguchi, had died, a claim rejected by Tokyo.
Many country representatives supported the call to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.
"The EU believes that it is imperative that there be no impunity for those responsible for human rights violations," EU representative to the UN in Geneva, Mariangela Zappia, told the council.
Along with Japan, the European Union is drafting a resolution on North Korea to be voted on by the council next week.
However, North Korea's key ally China, which has a veto at the UN Security Council, reiterated on Monday that it rejects any referral of North Korean rights abuse cases to the ICC.
The recent inclusion of China and Russia in the rotating membership of the Human Rights Council may even prevent the initial resolution needed to push the case to New York.