North Korea condemned a threatened U.N. investigation into its alleged human rights abuses on Monday and denounced a U.N. report as "faked material ... invented by the hostile forces, defectors and other rabbles".
The U.N. Human Rights Council is likely to back a call by Japan and the European Union to set up a "Commission of Inquiry" later this month, meaning that the isolated Asian state will face much closer scrutiny.
"It is nothing more than an instrument of political plot aimed at sabotaging our socialist system by defaming the dignified image of the DPRK and creating an atmosphere of international pressure under the pretext of 'human rights protection'," North Korea's Ambassador So Se Pyong told the Council.
The likely establishment of a U.N. investigation follows a report by an independent expert, Indonesian lawyer Marzuki Darusman, identifying human rights violations including kidnapping of foreign nationals, torture, and a gulag system thought to hold up to 200,000 prisoners.
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told Reuters there was a need for more in-depth investigation and she was disturbed that more attention was paid to Pyongyang's nuclear programme than the deteriorating human rights situation, which she called "the worst in the whole world".
"I don't think the world should stand by and see this kind of situation, which is not improving at all."
North Korea insists the evidence against it is false.
"We make it clear once again that the human rights violations mentioned in the report do not exist in our country," said Ambassador So.
"PERFECTION OF CONTROL"
Darusman said the situation had worsened since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took over after his father's death in December 2011.
"In the aftermath of the change of government, there has been a dwindling of people coming out," he said, referring to the flow of refugees who defy North Korean authorities to escape the country, mostly via China.
"It has reflected the efforts of the government to undertake what could be known as perfection of control of the whole country," he said.
Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, said 2,600 North Koreans were able to reach South Korea in 2011, but the number fell by 43 percent last year, and preliminary data showed "further tightening" in 2013.
It was "time to ratchet up" scrutiny, he told reporters.
"The DPRK is already aware that the world does not particularly approve of its human rights practices, but there may be benefit in terms of continuing to further up the ante, to take a further step, to move further up the line."
North Korea has shown increasing defiance in recent weeks, carrying out a nuclear test and making threats of military action that U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called "completely unacceptable".
With no Chinese or Russian vote in the Geneva-based human rights body, North Korea lacks allies to oppose a move to set up the inquiry.
However, the representative of Venezuela, which has a vote on the Council, said attempts to focus on particular countries risked turning into an "inquisition" and threatened states that dared to follow a path that diverged from the mainstream.