The UN General Assembly committee dealing with human rights has called for the UN Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity.
The resolution, passed by the UN Third Committee on Tuesday, linked the alleged abuses to the policies of North Korea's leadership and called on the Security Council to consider targeted sanctions against those responsible.
The vote followed a UN Commission of Inquiry report published in February detailing wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.
The resolution will go to the full General Assembly for formal approval in December.
The statement pointed the finger squarely at North Korea's top leadership by acknowledging the commission's finding that there were "reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed ... pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State for decades".
The EU quickly issued a statement welcoming the support of 111 countries for the resolution, although 19 countries voted against and 55 abstained.
General Assembly resolutions condemning human-rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, Myanmar and Syria have become an annual occurrence; however, this was the first time a North Korea resolution included a recommendation for an ICC referral.
Largely symbolic vote
Tuesday's resolution increases political pressure on North Korea but it is largely symbolic.
It is unlikely to lead to action in the Hague-based ICC, which looks at serious abuses like genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Diplomats said China, a North Korea ally, would probably use its Security Council veto power to stop any ICC referral.
They said China's stance would likely be supported by Russia.
China and Russia backed an amendment to the resolution by Cuba, which was voted down, to remove the call to refer North Korea to the ICC and an acknowledgement of the commission's view that there were reasonable grounds to believe it had committed crimes against humanity.
China said the Security Council was not the appropriate forum for human-rights discussions.
Choe Myong-nam, a North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser for UN and human rights issues, condemned the vote, blaming the US and its allies.
He gave warning on the possibility of further nuclear tests, which have drawn UN sanctions in the past.
"The outrageous and unreasonable human rights campaign staged by the United States and its followers in their attempts to eliminate the state and social system of [North Korea] is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests," Choe said.