Members of the UN Security Council have slammed North Korea’s human rights record in a meeting on Monday, describing life inside the secretive state as a “living nightmare”.
The UN council put the issue on the agenda after voting to overrule China's objections and add alleged grave abuses to the topics in the meeting.
The historic discussion marks the first time that the UN Security Council has discussed North Korea’s human rights record.
Speaking at the meeting, US Ambassador Samantha Power said: "Today, we have broken the council's silence. We have begun to shine a light, and what it has revealed is terrifying."
Referencing a UN inquiry report released in February, Ms Power said crimes against humanity have been committed “pursuant to policies established at the highest levels of state".
She said: “Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the DPRK."
She also cited horrific accounts from defectors who fled North Korean prison camps - accounts Pyongyang has dismissed as fabricated.
North Korea refused to attend the meeting, telling the Associated Press it "totally rejects the attempt" to bring the human rights issue to the council.
It previously branded those who fled the North and aided the inquiry as “human scum”.
During the meeting, diplomats touched on the inquiry's more horrific details, including starving prisoners picking through cow dung for kernels of corn to eat, rape, forced abortions and mass starvation. "I would not run through the macabre lists of atrocities," said Luxembourg Ambassador Sylvie Lucas. "This would make us all nauseated."
China and Russia, which hold veto power as permanent council members, attempted to block the effort to confront Pyongyang over the issue of human rights abuses.
China's ambassador, Liu Jieyi, had said the council "should refrain from doing anything that might cause the escalation of tensions".
The UN-backed inquiry and the UN General Assembly have urged the 15-member council to refer North Korea's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. Permanent council members the US, France and the UK said it should be considered, but the council did not take action Monday.
North Korea sent a sharp warning last month, threatening further nuclear tests after the UN General Assembly's human rights committee voted to move the issue to the Security Council, which can take binding actions on matters of international peace and security.
The meeting came as internet services in North Korea were restored following an unprecedented nine-hour internet blackout.
The FBI holds North Korea responsible for a recent high-profile hack of Sony pictures that succeeded in preventing the release of The Interview, a comedy film that depicts the assassination of the country's leader Kim Jong-un.
President Barack Obama said the US government expected to respond to North Korea's expensive act of "cyber vandalism".
The US government has declined to comment on the internet blackout in North Korea.
Additional reporting by AP
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