Efforts to bring those responsible for North Korea's human rights violations to justice are key to improving the communist nation's human rights situation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report released Wednesday.


Ban made the remark in the report to the U.N. General Assembly, calling on the international community to make "all possible and reasonable efforts to ensure that the systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations described in the report of the commission of inquiry are brought to an end."


"Efforts to engage the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to improve the human rights situation in the country must go hand in hand with efforts to hold perpetrators of crimes accountable," Ban said in the report.


In that sense, it constitutes a "significant development" for the U.N. Security Council to take up the North's human rights issue as an agenda item, he said in the Sept. 25-dated report that was posted on the U.N. website on Wednesday.


Ban also made a series of recommendations urging the North to take concrete steps to improve the situation, invite the U.N. special rapporteur to visit the country, engage meaningfully with all U.N. member states and provide unimpeded access to U.N. and humanitarian agencies.


Last year, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution calling for referring the North to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations. The resolution led to the Security Council adopting the issue as an official agenda item for the first time.


Sources at the U.N. said that South Korea, the United States and like-minded partners have begun drafting a new resolution that would also call for referring those responsible for the North's abuses of its hunger-stricken people to the ICC.


Chances are not high for the Security Council to actually refer the issue to the ICC because China and Russia, which have friendlier ties with North Korea than any other countries, are expected to veto such a move. Still, such resolutions play a great role in drawing international attention to the issue.


North Korea has long been labeled as one of the worst human rights violators. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.


But the North has bristled at such criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.


In June, the State Department said in its annual human rights report that the North's human rights record "remained among the worst in the world" last year with public executions, political prison camps, torture and other abuses.