Updated: 05/02/2014 03:43 | By Agence France-Presse

UN diplomats urge North Korea to end rights abuses

North Korea must act immediately to halt a litany of abuses and crimes against humanity, diplomats said Thursday during a UN review of the isolated Asian nation's rights record.

UN diplomats urge North Korea to end rights abuses

Undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on February 11, 2014, shows leader Kim Jong-Un (C) during a photo session with the national conference of subworkteam leaders in an undisclosed location

But the isolated Asian nation -- backed by its main ally, China -- hit back at the criticism and said a recent report by UN investigators was designed to "defame" the country.

Most of the diplomats who took the floor at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voiced outrage at the "systematic, widespread and gross rights violations" detailed in the February report, which documented a range of grave abuses in the country, including extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual violence.

"We note with concern that... human rights violations and crimes against humanity continue to take place with impunity," British representative Karen Pierce said.

North Korea has categorically rejected the report, with one of the country's top diplomats Choe Myong Nam insisting Thursday it was "full of distortions".

Several countries praised North Korea's advances in some areas, like its reduction in child mortality and recent reunions permitted between families separated by the ongoing conflict on the Korean peninsula.

But US ambassador Robert King told the council Washington was "alarmed by the widespread use of forced labour, including child labour, in detention facilities".

He called on Pyongyang to "acknowledge the human rights violations in the country and take immediate steps to end such violations."

Counsellor Chuandong Chen of North Korea's key ally China urged the international community to treat North Korea "in a fair manner".

North Korea's representative to the UN in Geneva said progress had been made in a number of fields since its last Universal Periodic Review, which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.

He pointed to new legislation to protect the rights of children, women and the disabled, a broadening of the state education and healthcare systems, expanded efforts to provide enough food to the often famine-struck nation and a free housing programme.

But, he said, efforts to protect and promote human rights were threatened by "the persistent politically motivated pressure and military threat by outside forces," and "aggravating economic sanctions", imposed by the international community on the nuclear-armed state.

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