Despite the first appearance in the Paralympics by a North Korean in London this week, the issue of disabled rights in the North is still an important one. Long thought to have been deprived of their basic rights and their basic needs, and with reports of infanticide of disabled new births, the disabled in North Korea have a tougher time than most. It is heartwarming, therefore, to read about the case of Ji Seong Ho, a defector recently met and interviewed by Yonhap News.
Ji Seong Ho escaped North Korea like so many others via the Tumen River. His story is a little bit different to your average defector story. Ji is disabled. He completed the journey from North Korea to Southeast Asia and then on to the South without a hand and a foot; he lost both in an accident. Due to the nature of healthcare in the country, he had to have his hand and foot amputated after an accident. The journey is usually hard for defectors. It must have been even harder for Ji.
A former physician in North Korea that defected, Ri Kwang Chol, stated in 2006 that there was a reason that the number of defectors with disabilities was small. The reason for that is that, he claimed, the disabled at birth are put straight to death. That is the not the only account of the disabled being maltreated by the state. Vitit Muntarbhorn also stated, in 2006, that there are serious concerns with the treatment of the disabled in North Korea. He drew attention to the alleged ‘Ward 49’: a camp that holds those with disabilities. There have also been reports that the disabled are legally banned from living within the capital.
Whilst the strength of Rim Ju Song to participate in the Paralympics should be applauded, the treatment of the disabled in North Korea should not be forgotten.