The human rights group Freedom House says North Korea has the worst human rights record in the world and is calling on the international community to take concrete legal action against Pyongyang.  VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

Freedom House's Thomas Melia says for decades, his organization has compiled annual reports examining the human rights situation in countries around the world.

"Throughout the 36 years, the country that has consistently had the lowest scores in terms of political rights and civil liberties, in every one of those years running, is North Korea," he said.

Melia was speaking at a news conference in Washington Wednesday, where his group unveiled a new report that analyzes the repression in North Korea's political labor camp system.

Human rights groups accuse Pyongyang of a consistent pattern of subjecting North Koreans to political detention, torture, forced malnutrition and other cruel and inhumane persecution.

The report's author, international human rights activist David Hawk, has experience investigating atrocities in Cambodia and Rwanda.  He says he believes the severity of the situation in North Korea puts it on par with other human rights cases that may be better known.

"While the report takes a formal, legalistic approach, we would like to make the point that the North Korean violations are up there with the Srbrenicas, the Rwandas, the Cambodias, the Sierra Leones, when it comes to the worst situations of human rights violations taking place in the world today," he said.
Hawk called for the United Nations to take legal action against North Korea.  Lawyer David Scheffer, who wrote the report's foreword, said the first step would be to formally raise North Korea's human rights record at the U.N. Security Council. 

"It would not be as difficult, I think, to work through the Security Council, the notion of creating a commission of inquiry on North Korea, as a preliminary step to serious consideration by the Council of a criminal referral to the ICC," he said.

The ICC is the International Criminal Court, which was set up in 2002 at the Hague.

Scheffer said he believes the human rights violations in North Korea meet international definitions for crimes against humanity.

"It's a no brainer," he added.  "Thresholds are crossed."

Scheffer said the basic requirement for international criminal cases is that there be widespread or systematic attacks against civilians.  He says North Korea fits the definition on both counts.