New York: US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced human rights abuses in North Korea on Tuesday and called on Pyongyang to shut down its penal colonies riddled with "barbarity and inhumanity."
"You should close those camps, you should shut this evil system down," Kerry said at an event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly attended by a North Korean who escaped the gulag he was born in.
In one of the most comprehensive reports to date, a UN commission of inquiry into the North`s rights detailed a wide range of systemic abuses including murder, enslavement and torture.
The commission published findings in February that many of the violations constituted crimes against humanity and suggested they could be placed before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"The veil has been truly lifted," Kerry told the event in New York bringing together the foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and Australia, who backed the recommendations of the 400-page report.
These include that Pyongyang should dismantle the camps and release all political prisoners.
It has also recommended that the UN Security Council should adopt sanctions against those found to be behind human rights abuses in the remote country.
"No longer can North Korea`s secrecy be seen as an excuse for silence, ignorance or inaction," Kerry insisted.
"Thousands upon thousands of North Korean citizens are being robbed of their dignity and stripped of their humanity in penal colonies, if they`re lucky enough to survive at all."
"If we who are free .... if we don`t stand with men and women suffering in anonymity, in places like North Korea, then what do we stand for? If we don`t give voice to the voiceless, then why bother to speak about these issues," Kerry pleaded.
The impoverished but nuclear-armed North has been ruled for more than six decades by the Kim family dynasty which has maintained power with an iron fist and zero tolerance for political dissent.The country is estimated to have 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in its sprawling prison system.
Shin Dong Hyuk, who escaped from a life in the North Korean camps, told the meeting that he was forced to watch the execution of his mother and brother when he was just 14.
"At this moment, many prisoners including my father are suffering in those camps in North Korea," Shin said. "Please save our brothers and sisters who are suffering in North Korea."
North Korea has refused to cooperate with the UN probe and has said the evidence was "fabricated" by "forces hostile" to the country.
Its traditional ally China, as well as Russia, snubbed a UN Security Council meeting in April to discuss the report, and any move to refer North Korean leaders to the ICC would like run up against tough opposition from veto-wielding Beijing.
South Korea and Japan both said however they supported a tough UN resolution holding North Korea culpable for human rights violations.
"If North Korea`s proclamations of human rights are sincere it should take actions which speak louder than words," insisted South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
Addressing the victims, Kerry said: "You may be hidden, but we can see you. We know you`re there. Your captors can silence your voice and assault your dignity, but they cannot deny your basic humanity."