A U.N. human rights inquiry has concluded North Korea is committing "unspeakable atrocities" against its people.
The U.N.-mandated report says the North Korean government, with policies set at the "highest level of state," has engaged in crimes against humanity that do not have "any parallel in the contemporary world."
The report released in Geneva said North Korea has systematically exterminated, tortured and enslaved its people, ordered forced abortions, and persecuted people on political, religious, racial and gender grounds.
The U.N. report called for the international community to take urgent action to refer the North Korean government to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
North Korean diplomats in Geneva dismissed the report, saying it was an "instrument of a political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system."
In a letter accompanying the report, top U.N. investigator Michael Kirby wrote North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month that he may be held personally responsible for the crimes against humanity being carried out by his country. The report said Mr. Kim refused to respond to the investigators' findings.
Kirby said that unlike at the end of World War Two, when the reality of Nazi concentration camps became known, the world now knows of North Korean abuses.
"At the end of the Second World War, so many people said, 'If only we had known, if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces. If only we had known that.' Well now, the international community does know, the international community will know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn't know. We do know.''
The report also criticized China for forcibly repatriating North Koreans who have crossed the border into China. The United Nations said those returned to North Korea have been subject to torture, summary execution and various forms of sexual violence.
China told the U.N. investigators it would continue to "prudently and properly handle" North Koreans who enter China illegally.
The United States said the report "clearly and unequivocally documents the brutal reality" of North Korea's human rights abuses.
Amnesty International's East Asia director, Roseann Rife, said the findings could increase the pressure on North Korea to reform.
"The North Korean government is a very closed government and it has successfully ignored previous calls to respect human rights. But this is a chance to really raise the pressure and to increase the opportunities to achieve change."