North Korean prisoners are sometimes given raw locusts, skinned frogs and rats as food, says a defector, painting a grim picture of what goes on inside the impoverished nation, notorious for its blatant human rights abuses.
At a UN-arranged gathering, Ji Hyeon A, a female defector who has had some harrowing experiences in her life, recounted how three attempts by her to flee North Korea had failed. She was repatriated on all three occasions by China to North Korea. Ji described how she, just like scores of other North Korean women, was forced to undergo an abortion. She managed to reach South Korea in her fourth attempt in 2007.
Addressing a group of UN diplomats at the event titled "The terrifying experience of forcibly repatriated North Korean women", she pleaded with the world powers to act quickly on the human rights situation in North Korea.
The event took place on the sidelines of a UN Security Council session, convened to address alleged human rights violations by the Kim Jong-un regime. It was jointly sponsored by the US, France, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the UK.
"Pregnant women were forced into harsh labour all day. At night, we heard pregnant mothers screaming and babies died without labour being able to see their mothers," said the North Korean defector in a faltering voice.
"I ask UN officials and representatives around the world to fight for freedom and human rights of North Koreans and repatriated defectors who do not even have the right to know or the right to own," she appealed.
There have been widespread allegations of brutalities such as murders, enslavement and torture of citizens by the North Korean regime. The UN had once described the atrocities as "unparalleled in modern history".
Following Ji's testimony, diplomats lashed out at the North Korean government. "If there's nothing else we do, I hope that we'll have the conversation about repatriation," said US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley.
"Because we may not be able to do anything on the inside, but if they have the courage and they take the chance and they do flee North Korea, we should try and find a solution [for] them on the outside."