North Korea's brutal regime is committing crimes against humanity including the extermination, starvation and enslavement of its population, and its leadership must be held accountable at an international court, a UN-mandated inquiry team has said.
The secretive state's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un could be hauled before an international court to answer for his crimes, the commission's chairman, Michael Kirby, demanded.
Concerns about human rights abuses in the impoverished country have persisted for years, but have been largely overshadowed in international forums by fears over North Korea's attempts to become a nuclear weapons power.
Now, Pyongyang's crimes have been branded "a shock to the conscience of humanity".
Today, more than 200,000 men, women and children are thought to be locked up in state run concentration camps where systematic torture, starvation and murder are daily occurrences and few are able to survive.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea published its report on Monday, with evidence of torture, rape and murder inside the country's labour camps where political prisoners are held.
Now, the inquiry chairman has personally written to North Korea's leader, to warn that he could face trial at the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague.
"The gravity, scale and nature of these violations revealed a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," the report read.
Testimony to the panel included an account of a woman forced to drown her own baby, children imprisoned from birth and starved, and families tortured for watching a foreign soap opera.
Mr Kirby compared the atrocities taking place in North Korea, to the Holocaust, saying he saw the rights abuses in North Korea as "strikingly similar" to atrocities from the Nazi era.
"At the end of the Second World War, so many people said: If only we had known... Now the international community does know. There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn't know," Mr Kirby said.
The UN's inquiry on human rights in North Korea has been gathering evidence for almost a year – including in an unprecedented series of public hearings in four cities around the world, which heard sometimes harrowing testimony from North Korean defectors.
A former prisoner, who gave evidence to the UN panel, previously told The Huffington Post UK how she survived in one such camp, having suffered unfathomable atrocities first-hand.
"I have lived a life that cannot be told without tears," she said.
North Korea earlier hit out at the UN in a statement sent to Reuters. The government called the UN report "fabricated and invented" and an "instrument of political plot".
"However, we will continue to strongly respond to the end to any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext of 'human rights protection'," it said.
"The DPRK once again makes it clear that the human rights violations mentioned in the so-called 'report' do not exist in our country."
The United Nations Security Council must now increase pressure on North Korea to address the horrific human rights situation in the country, Amnesty International said following publication of a damning UN report.
“The gravity and nature of human rights violations are off the scale," Amnesty International’s East Asia Research Director Roseann Rife said.
“The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council should seize this opportunity and use their power and influence to ensure the North Korean government acts on the Commission’s findings. The people of North Korea deserve no less.
“The international community cannot afford to sit idly by, as these incomprehensible crimes are perpetrated. The Commission’s findings reinforce the need for the UN Security Council to raise human rights alongside security and peace when it comes to North Korea.”
A referral by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal were two options outlined by the UN Commission to ensure those responsible for crimes against humanity are held to account.
The Commission urged North Korea to acknowledge that human rights violations are taking place including the vast network of political prison camps.
Other recommendations in the 372-page report included the UN Security Council referring the country to the International Criminal Court or setting up an ad hoc tribunal.
But Pyongyang's key ally China strongly opposed such a move, saying it would "not help resolve the human rights situation" and that "constructive dialogue" was the answer.
China, North Korea's only ally, would be likely to block any attempt to refer the North to the International Criminal Court, the BBC said.
The panel will formally present its findings next month, when the Human Rights Council will decide which recommendations to support.
Human Rights Watch urged Security Council members to immediately invite the Commission of Inquiry to brief them on their findings, and called on other countries to support efforts to achieve accountability for crimes committed in North Korea.
“The UN was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War precisely to address this kind of massive abuse,” the group said.
“The atrocities described in this report are a profound challenge to the founding ideals of the UN and should shock the organisation into bold action. The suffering and loss endured by victims demand swift and definitive action aimed at bringing those responsible to justice.”