North Korean defector says disabled disappear and mentally ill left to die under Kim Jong-un’s regime, amid claims dwarfs are castrated and chemical weapons tested on children
North Korea is systematically “cleansing” its population by making those with mental or physical disabilities disappear, a defector has claimed.
Ji Seong-ho, 32, who escaped from North Korea after losing his left leg above the knee and his left hand at the wrist, said the disabled are considered a stain on North Korea’s image and a “humiliation” to the ruling regime.
Mr Ji, who is researching a book on the plight of North Korea’s disabled, said babies with disabilities are taken away by hospital staff, never to be seen again. He added that children with developmental difficulties are neglected until they die.
“The regime proclaims: ‘There are no people with disabilities under the Kims’ rule’ and ‘everyone is equal and living well’,” he said. “And while that propaganda is going on disabled children are being taken away, suffering indescribable things and dying.”
He said two other defectors had told him of a village in the remote and inhospitable mountains of Ryanggang Province where anyone with dwarfism was sent.
“They were forbidden to leave and left entirely to their own devices, without any outside help,” he said. “The men were castrated so they would become extinct. There’s no-one left there by now.”
A United Nations commission said in February that it had heard allegations that medical experiments are performed in “closed hospitals” on “persons with disabilities”. But it added that it had not managed to confirm the claims.
In a separate study, conducted in 2013 by the Citizens’ Alliance on North Korean Human Rights, some 40 per cent of defectors said they believed that infants with disabilities are killed or abandoned and 43 per cent claimed to know of “an island” on which the disabled are forced to live.
One of the defectors told of a hospital where disabled people are sent “for medical tests, such as dissection of body parts, as well as tests of biological and chemical weapons.”
A former officer in North Korea’s special forces, who defected in the 1990s after watching chemical and biological weapons tests on disabled children and adults, told The Telegraph about the programme.
“The regime wants to do this ‘legally’ so they offer to buy disabled children from their parents and they say they will take care of them,” said Im Cheon-yong.
“If that doesn’t work, they threaten them. They use them for chemical weapons experiments,” he said. “But not only children, they also use disabled adults.” Mr Im said he first saw such tests, involving anthrax and other chemical weapons, in 1984.
Ji Seong-ho lost his limbs at the age of 14 after he passed out from hunger while scavenging for coal on the railway tracks and was run over by a train. When he fell, the train ran over his left arm and leg and staff of a nearby station bundled him into a wheelbarrow and took him to a nearby hospital.
“I needed surgery, but they didn’t have anaestheic,” he said. “I remember the doctor carrying me into the operating room and they had to hold me down while they operated. I could hear the saw going through my bones.”
After the operation, hospital staff gave him cigarettes as painkillers, although his leg became infected and required a second amputation, this time above the knee. Again, there was no anaesthetic. Fifteen days later, Mr Ji was sent home from the hospital as they were no longer able to care for him.
While he was allowed to cross into China in 2000 to beg for food, he was arrested on his return and interrogated for more than two weeks.
“I asked them why,” he said. “They told me that because I was disabled, I had hurt the dignity of North Korea by going to China to beg and that I had humiliated Kim Jong-il. They told me the people in North Korea are happy so how dare I go there and be a beggar.
“They said people like me should just die,” he added. “That really hurt.”
Today he is scheduled to address Parliament, after protesting earlier in the week outside of the North Korean embassy in London about the rights of the disabled.
“The regime claims the rights of disabled in North Korea are respected and they sent athletes to the Asian Paralympic Games in Incheon earlier this year, but it’s all just window-dressing,” he said.
“The reality is horrible,” he added. “In the famine years in the 1990s, the disabled received no food rations because they were not able to work and were not productive members of society. As much as 80 percent of the disabled just starved to death.”
“The regime assumes that we are useless and that is the message that they pass on to society,” he said.
“A baby was born near my house with deformed legs. It died when it was 1.
“People in North Korea have such a hard time surviving anyway that they cannot take care of the disabled,” he adds with a shrug.
Mr Ji eventually decided to defect in 2006 and was able to reach South Korea and, shortly afterwards, help his mother and younger brother and sister reach Seoul. His father, a coal miner, also tried to defect that year, but was caught, sent to prison and died during torture.