The U.N. Human Rights Council in March set up a commission with a one-year mandate to investigate North Korean rights issues. It announced Tuesday that Kirby would lead a three-person panel that includes Indonesia's Marzuki Darusman, who serves as U.N. special envoy on North Korean rights, and Serbia's Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
The resolution that established the commission tasked it with investigating violations related to torture, arbitrary detention, the right to life, enforced disappearances and the right to food, among other things.
South Korean lawmakers last month passed a measure that aims to address North Korean rights issues. The U.S. House of Representatives embraced a similar resolution last year, describing the North Korean government as the most oppressive in the world.
The North Korean forced labor camp system is said to house as many as 200,000 people.
North Korean rhetoric has sparked concern among U.S. defense officials about security on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea in February conducted an underground nuclear test, though tensions have since eased.