U.N. inquiry into N. Korea hears "shocking testimonies" from refugees

"Harrowing accounts" of human rights violations in North Korea have been given to investigators in London, a U.N.-appointed inquiry said Thursday.

Michael Kirby, an Australian judge and chair of the investigation, told journalists the testimonies were "extremely powerful" and he hoped they would alert the international community to an issue which has, at times, "slipped off the radar."

The United Nations-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, heard from several witnesses on Wednesday including one man who describes how he had to crawl into a prison that was crammed with other inmates.

The inquiry also heard from a woman who detailed humiliating acts she was forced to endure at the hands of guards at a detention center.

And a former captain in the army told how soldiers would regularly rob food from people because they were so hungry.

Kirby said the inquiry's final report, due in March, may indicate ways the international community can "reach out" to North Korea. He added it is not the role of the inquiry to recommend sanctions.

Kirby said the report will focus closely on who is actually responsible for human rights violations in North Korea.

He added his panel may also look at the extent to which North Korea could be liable to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court even though it has not officially signed up to the treaty setting up the judicial organization.

On Tuesday the inquiry will give an update to the United Nations in New York followed by public hearings in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday where witnesses will give testimonies.

The inquiry has already conducted public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo and Bangkok. Despite repeated requests, North Korea, has refused to cooperate with the inquiry which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.