A key United Nations committee has adopted a resolution condemning North Korea's "longstanding and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" and strongly urged its government to immediately end the abuses.
The General Assembly's human rights committee approved the resolution by consensus after Sudan failed in an attempt to delete a provision encouraging the Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court.
The resolution, co-sponsored by the European Union and Japan, is certain to be approved by the 193-member assembly in December.
Sudan, China and Cuba told the meeting that they "disassociated" themselves from the measure.
The resolution expresses deep concern "at the grave human rights situation, the pervasive culture of impunity and the lack of accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the country's official name.
The resolution expressed "very serious concern" at persistent reports of rights violations, including findings of the UN commission of inquiry on North Korea in 2014.
It cited torture, "inhuman conditions of detention," rape, public executions, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, political prison camps for "a vast number of persons" and pervasive restrictions on freedom of thought, religion, expression, assembly and movement.
The resolution "acknowledges" the commission's finding that the testimony and information it gathered "provide reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the state for decades and by institutions under the effective control of its leadership."
North Korea's UN Mission said in a statement that it "resolutely and totally rejects" the resolution, which it called "a product of political plot of hostile forces that try to disgrace the image" of the country.
The mission said the material in the resolution "is nothing but the most despicable false words fabricated by a handful of 'defectors"' and stressed that "today, in the DPRK all people are enjoying genuine freedom and rights to the full extent" thanks to leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korea expressed "deep concern and surprise" that the EU and Japan instigated "confrontation" by introducing the resolution "which is full of political criticism and fabrication at the time when the atmosphere of reconciliation and cooperation is prevailing on the Korean peninsula and efforts are being made for establishing a permanent and durable peace mechanism in Korean peninsula."
Since North Korea's Kim reached out to South Korea and the United States early this year, the two Korean leaders have met three times and Kim held a historic summit with President Donald Trump - with another one expected in the new year. But there has been no significant progress on Kim's commitment to nuclear disarmament, and as a result no lifting of UN or US sanctions against North Korea.