The United Nations on Thursday said it will for the first time establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea that may amount to crimes against humanity.
The UN's Human Rights Council passed a resolution to establish a commission to probe "the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea... with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity."
Japan and the European Union, with the backing of other Western countries including the United States, had presented the resolution, which passed with full consensus in the 47-member council.
North Korea's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Pyong Se So, swiftly rejected the resolution, insisting to the council that it was "full of fabrications" and merely a "political ploy" to "disgrace the image of the Democratic Republic of Korea."
His country had "one of the best systems in the world for the protection of human rights," he added.
The UN's special rapporteur on North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, presented a report to the council earlier this month in which he accused Pyongyang of a string of crimes against humanity, including depriving the population of food, torture, arbitrary detention and the secretive regime's denial of freedom of expression.
He also highlighted concerns about a network of political prison camps believed to hold some 200,000 people, including detainees who were born in captivity because entire families are thought to have been sent there.
Thursday's resolution condemned a long line of abuses, "in particular the use of torture and labour camps against political prisoners and repatriated citizens".
It urged Pyongyang to "immediately end those practices and to release all political prisoners unconditionally and without delay."
The resolution also extended Darusman's mandate and said he should be one of three members on the new commission of inquiry.
It called on Pyongyang "to cooperate fully with the special rapporteur" and the investigation.
Like previous UN rights monitors, Darusman has so far not been granted access to North Korea and for his analysis he relied largely on testimony from North Koreans who have fled the country.
North Korea, run by a Stalinist regime since the end of World War II, is one of the most isolated nations on the planet.
In recent years, it has locked horns with the international community over its nuclear programme, and military tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated dramatically since the North conducted its third nuclear test last month.