NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Tuesday for North Korea to shut down its "evil system" of prison camps.
Kerry spoke at a gathering of foreign officials and activists to draw attention to the findings of a U.N. commission of inquiry that in February concluded that North Korea's authoritarian government had committed crimes against humanity.
Kerry said that abuses detailed in the commission's 400-page report "have no place in the 21st century."
The U.N. commission estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four large camps, where deliberate starvation has been used as a means of control and punishment.
Kerry called for North Korea to acknowledge the abuses and hold those responsible to account.
"We say to the North Korean government, all of us here today: You should close those camps. You should shut this evil system down," Kerry said.
North Korea's authoritarian regime denies rights abuses.
The country's chief ally, China, is likely to block any attempt to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. China holds veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.
However, the diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang could mount.
Kerry said the U.S. would work with the European Union, Australia, Japan, South Korea and other nations on a strong U.N. resolution to carry the commission of inquiry's recommendations on North Korea forward.
Rights activists say they are hopeful a resolution could be introduced in the General Assembly next month.
"No one expects justice now, while the regime is in its current form. Instead, our hope at this point is to set the stage for accountability in the future," said John Sifton, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch.
Among those at the gathering at New York's plush Waldorf Astoria hotel, held on the eve of this year's General Assembly opening session, was Shin Dong-hyuk, a rare escapee from the North Korean gulag.