North Korea defector Ryu Ki-ho: "I had never heard of the phrase; human rights"
North Korea defector Ryu Ki-ho: "I had never heard of the phrase; human rights" Reuters

A former soldier from North Korea, who has recounted the story of his life and his eventual escape from the country, revealed that he had never even heard of human rights while he lived under the harsh regime.

Writing under the pseudonym of Ryu Ki-ho, he told the harrowing story of how he trained as a soldier, but later became a farmer, having been refused the chance to go to university, in an interview in the Guardian.

In the early 1990s being a farmer in North Korea meant having enough to eat, he explained. But this changed when a famine hit and Ryu Ki-ho's family died of starvation one by one, leaving only one son alive. Without his family, the former soldier saw no reason to remain obedient to the regime.

In 1999, he defected to China with his son. This was still unsafe - he heard reports every day of North Korean defectors being sent back from China - so he decided to try and make it to South Korea.

He made the difficult journey across the Mongolian desert to South Korea alone, leaving his son in the case of a trusted Chinese family. but when Ryu Ki-ho's son later attempted to make the crossing with some other defectors, the group was split up and he died.

Today, the 51-year-old joins many people in the south who send Balloons for Freedom across into North Korea. He wishes for change but insisted there is no imminent revolution which would topple Kim from power.

"When I see the experts talking of unification predicting that will happen within a few years I am filled with disgust. They talk as if they are fortune tellers," he told The Guardian.

"We are no longer in the 70s or 90s. North Koreans today can listen to broadcasts from other countries and watch television. Unification can be brought forward when we share the idea of democracy.

"The light of unification will soon enter the country and people will be curious about what is happening in other places. I used to send out fliers about the inhumane acts of the Kim family. Now, with the changing climate, I send fliers encouraging people to fight for freedom."