The rumours or widespread human rights abuses in North Korea have been just that - rumours - until now.
North Korea is truly a totalitarian state ... It is not content to take control of the physical lives of the citizens, it has to intrude into their way of thinking, into their attitudes to government ... [It implements] the system of characterising citizens according to their loyalty to the government and the party. This is truly a state without any real equivalent in the modern world.
A United Nations inquiry has just concluded that the range and scope of abuse of North Korea's 25 million citizens is beyond what many imagined.
The regime is accused of committing crimes against humanity including the extermination, starvation and enslavement of its population.
The UN-mandated inquiry team says the country's leadership should be hauled before at the International Criminal Court.
Among the reported abuses, the inquiry found that pregnant women are starved, while their babies are fed rats and snakes; more than 100,000 people are in gulags; there is systematic torture; everyone is forced to inform on each other; entire communities are denied adequate food; and the bodies of the dead are burned and then used for fertiliser.
The commission of inquiry says all abuses have been sanctioned and enforced by the government of Kim Jong-un.
The commission's chairman, retired Australian Justice Michael Kirby, says he is not exaggerating when he compares the situation in North Korea with the Holocaust.
Kirby charges that the leaders of the state, including the supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, should answer evidence that they preside over such crimes against their people.
Naturally, the North Korean government rejects the commission's work, but Kirby is not backing down.
So what is next for North Korea and its citizens? Are these substantiated allegations? And should the North Korean leaders be tried at the International Criminal Court?
We explore all this as Michael Kirby, the UN investigator of North Korean human rights crimes, talks to Al Jazeera.
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