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The United States on Friday welcomed the creation of a UN inquiry into human rights in North Korea, saying Washington was deeply concerned about the plight of the North Korean people.
"The United States commends the UN Human Rights Council for establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate North Korea's grave, widespread, systemic human rights violations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
The resolution, passed by consensus on Thursday in Geneva, sent "a message that the international community is paying very close attention to the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea," she added.
North Korea has angrily rejected the first UN commission into its human rights record, dismissing it as proof of the "ever-escalating hostile acts of the US to bring down the ideology and system chosen by the Korean people."
Asked if Pyongyang was committing genocide against its people, Nuland said it was hard to know the reality on the ground because the UN special rapporteur for North Korea Marzuki Darusman had been barred from the country.
"But we all have extremely strong concerns. There are all kinds of UN data about stunted growth ... about the secret prisons; the list just goes on and on," she said.
In a recent report, Darusman accused Pyongyang of a string of violations that could constitute crimes against humanity, and highlighted concerns about political prison camps believed to hold some 200,000 inmates, including those who were born in captivity.
Rights groups have called for UN help to shut down the North's gulag system.
Earlier Friday, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr told a Washington think-tank that it was believed as many as 1 in 20 North Koreans was languishing in "grotesquely cruel" gulags in the isolated Asian nation.