Life and death on margins of North Korea society –AFP (Korea Herald 8-25-2013)
North Korea’s famine in the 1990s unleashed a Darwinian struggle for survival that swiftly eliminated many of the most vulnerable in an already sharply stratified society, a U.N. panel heard Thursday.
“People are treated without dignity in North Korea ― and in some cases like sub-humans,” said Ji Seong-ho, who was 14 when he lost his hand and left leg trying to steal coal from a moving train during the famine years.
Ji, now 31, was one of a number of North Korean defectors called to testify before a U.N. Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea that is currently holding hearings in Seoul.
The North, which strongly denies allegations of rights abuses, has refused to recognize the commission and barred its members from visiting the country.
Ji said mentally and physically disabled people faced widespread social and official discrimination in North Korea, where they are judged as being of “no use” to society.
“When I was young, before my accident, I admit I used to make fun of adults with disabilities,” he said.
During the 1994-98 famine, which saw hundreds of thousands starve to death, ordinary North Koreans had to focus all their energies on scavenging to stay alive.
Food was so scarce that there was little to share and those who could not fend for themselves ― the very young, the elderly, the disabled ― were at particular risk.
“We had disabled people in our town, but by the time the food situation had begun to improve slightly in the late 1990s, we didn’t see them any more, meaning they must have died,” Ji said.
In March 1996 he was attempting to steal coal from a train to sell for food when he fell under the wheels, severing his left hand and leg.
“It was only then I realized how loud I could scream,” said Ji, who was taken to hospital and operated on without morphine or general anesthetic.
Unable to walk without crutches and with no job prospects, Ji managed to cross the border illegally into China in 2000 in an effort to find food for his family. Read More