A United Nations committee on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for accountability for gross human rights violations in North Korea.
The U.N. Third Committee, which oversees humanitarian issues, passed the document by consensus without a vote.
It is expected to pass the U.N. General Assembly next month for the 14th consecutive year.
The South Korean government said it joined the consensus-based decision in accordance with a policy to work together with the international community for a "substantive improvement" in the human rights of North Korean people.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this year's resolution, while largely maintaining the content of previous versions, welcomes ongoing diplomatic efforts on Pyongyang and takes note of the importance of dialogue and engagement to address the human rights and humanitarian situations there.
It was co-sponsored by 61 member states.
The resolution "condemns the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in and by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."
In particular it cites abuses the U.N. Commission of Inquiry said in 2014 could amount to crimes against humanity -- and the continuing impunity for such violations -- including torture, rape, public executions and the use of the death penalty for political and religious reasons.
The commission "encourages" the U.N. Security Council to "take appropriate action to ensure accountability," such as by considering referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.
It also calls on the council to consider further sanctions to "target effectively those who appear to be most responsible for human rights violations," an apparent reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The U.N. has repeatedly called for such action in its resolutions since 2014.
The commission "strongly urges" the North Korean government to take a series of measures to respect human rights.
They include "immediately" closing political prison camps and releasing all political prisoners "unconditionally and without any delay," ensuring those responsible for the crimes are brought to justice before an independent judiciary, and ensuring that North Korean defectors are able to return "in safety and dignity" without punishment.
This year's resolution also contains reference to December's U.N. Security Council resolution in which all U.N. member states are required to repatriate North Korean workers within two years.
The workers are thought to be a source of income for the North Korean government to continue development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
The resolution also welcomes "the ongoing diplomatic efforts," a likely reference to this year's historic summits between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in as well as U.S. President Donald Trump.
It notes the importance of dialogue and engagements for the improvement of the human rights situation.
And on the issue of South and North Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, the resolution welcomes the resumption of reunions in August, and the commitments made at the September inter-Korean summit to fundamentally resolve the issue.
The text was jointly penned by the European Union and Japan, with contributions from other member states, including South Korea.
The U.N. has adopted a North Korean human rights resolution every year since 2005.
Source: Yonhap News Agency