North Korea: UN human rights inquiry 'moved to tears'
The chief of a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea says he was "moved to tears" by testimonies of "gross human rights violations".
Michael Kirby, a retired judge, said the inquiry had "copious evidence" of rights abuses in North Korea.
During the inquiry's hearings, eyewitnesses described systematic torture, starvation and executions.
North Korea describes the inquiry as "a political plot" and has not given investigators access to the country.
However, the inquiry said that it was not biased against Pyongyang and that it had consistently asked North Korean representatives to take part in public hearings and question witnesses.
The inquiry is the UN's first-ever human rights investigation into North Korea.
The UN panel interviewed witnesses in South Korea, Japan and the UK, and is conducting hearings in the US on Wednesday and Thursday. It will submit a final report to the UN in March 2014.
"Some of the testimony has been extremely distressing," Mr Kirby said.
"I am a judge of 35 years experience and I have seen in that time a lot of melancholy court cases which somewhat harden one's heart."
"But even in my own case, there have been a number of testimonies which have moved me to tears," he said.
Some of the atrocities reported included a woman forced to drown her own baby; children imprisoned from birth and starved; and families tortured for watching a foreign soap opera.
Kim Song-ju, a North Korean defector, told the hearing last week about the torture he experienced in a detention camp.
"The North Korean prison guards were telling us that once you get to this prison you're not human, you're just like animals," he said.
Meanwhile, fellow inquiry member Marzuki Darusman said that fewer North Koreans had fled to South Korea in 2013.
In 2013 so far, 1,041 North Koreans had entered South Korea, compared to 1,509 in 2012 and 2,706 in 2011, he said.
"This represents a reversal of the trend of steady increase in the number of annual arrivals since 1998, possibly due to recently tightened border control and increased incidents of refoulement," he said.
Refoulement refers to the forced return of refugees to their country of origin or another country where they are likely to be persecuted.
North Korean refugees tend to make their journey to South Korea via China, which borders the North. However, China often returns North Korean refugees, ruling them economic migrants.