The United Nations on Thursday set up an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in North Korea, saying some of them "may amount to crimes against humanity".
The 47-member Geneva forum unanimously adopted a resolution brought by the European Union and Japan, and backed by the United States, condemning alleged torture, food deprivation and labour camps for political prisoners.
It launched a three-member investigation for one year and called on Pyongyang to cooperate with the team, which will include Marzuki Darusman, its special rapporteur on North Korea who last month reported rapes, torture and executions in the isolated country.
"This long awaited inquiry will help expose decades of abuse by the North Korean government," Julie de Rivero, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
At the debate, North Korea ambassador So Se Pyong rejected the resolution as "an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea)".
"As we stated time and again, those human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution do not exist in our country," So said, warning that the sponsors should be held accountable "for all serious consequences".