“Holocaust” is the word used to describe the systematic extermination of millions of innocent European Jews during World War II. In the aftermath of this mammoth failure of humanity, many nations “repented” and declared that “never again” would such inhumanity and absolute disregard for human dignity and life be tolerated.

Yet on Jan. 1, the regime of Kim Jong Il warned that a “nuclear holocaust” would be inevitable if South Korea engaged the North in war. While the world watches peoples in the Middle East and North Africa rise up against tyranny, another people suffers on the Korean Peninsula. And that Pyongyang so irreverently invoked this term to describe its so-called necessary defense is a stark reminder of the genocidal and inhumane nature of Kim Jong Il’s regime and the atrocities it has committed against millions of innocents.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, called on the international community in 2004 to investigate “political genocide” in North Korea. In response to reports of “North Korea’s use of gas chambers to murder and perform medical experiments on political dissidents and their families” and the “chilling image of the murderers coolly watching their victims’ death agonies . . . all too reminiscent of Nazi barbarism,” the group’s chairman, Avner Shalev, wrote to then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that “the issue is all the more severe due to North Korea’s status as a member of the U.N.”

In other words, the world’s foremost authorities on genocide appealed to the international community, one of the few rays of hope for the North Korean people, who are trapped in a living hell.

An estimated 1 million innocent men, women and children have been murdered in North Korean political concentration camps since 1972, academics believe.

Virtually nothing has been done to speed the closure of these camps since 2004, though the testimony of tens of thousands of refugees provides mounting evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Outside observers and nongovernmental organizations estimate that 3.5 million North Koreans died of starvation between 1995 and 1997. They continue to die in huge numbers in a government-organized famine akin to the Holodomor famine-genocide in Ukraine (1932-33), which was orchestrated by Joseph Stalin. Billions in humanitarian aid have been shipped to North Korea, more than enough to feed the nation’s population, but government and academic studies have revealed that North Korea systematically diverted the aid, using it to bolster its military might while millions, for whom the aid was intended, starved to death.

Raphael Lemkin’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide included political murders in its first draft definition of genocide, but Stalin objected, the definition was amended and the Soviet Union was not held accountable for the tens of millions of innocents murdered without just cause by starvation and in the Gulag. Some have incorrectly concluded that mass murder and genocide in North Korea would also be exempt from prosecution under the convention.

This is not the case. North Korea has been considered the world’s worst persecutor of Christians for many years by objective researchers of religious persecution such as Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Soon Ok Lee, one of the few survivors of the North Korean concentration camp system, has testified before Congress and later told MSNBC that “since the Korean War — in Korea they call it June 25 War — the No. 1 enemy is God. Kim II Sung hated God most.”

It is common knowledge among refugees and people who follow North Korea that those discovered to have any kind of faith or religious belief — and their families, to three generations — are executed or sent to concentration camps for life. This constitutes genocide under Article 2 of the convention; consequently, the world has not only the moral duty but also the legal right and obligation, under Article 8, to intervene.

Actions that all of us in the free world can, and must, take immediately to save the North Korean people and stop the crimes against humanity include:

l An NGO strike. The nongovernmental organizations supporting the genocidal Pyongyang regime must withdraw all support from Kim Jong Il immediately and unambiguously declare their action a protest of the North’s concentration camps, systematic diversion of food aid and mass atrocities.

l Use our resources effectively. The United States, South Korea, Japan and the rest of the international community must recognize that there is a way to effectively save those in desperate need. It is through the refugees, most of whom still have relatives and friends in the North with whom they are in secret communication. North Korean refugees and their ally organizations must be provided all possible resources.

l Mass demonstrations. Never have more than 100,000 people gathered to protest the mass atrocities in North Korea. All who object to the genocide must organize, assemble and make their voices heard.

We should get to work immediately, realizing that we are already far too late.

The writer is a human rights activist and missionary who was detained in North Korea from December 2009 to February 2010.