One witness at the public hearings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said that young male inmates in North Korean prison camps became so desperate for food they would eat live worms or snakes caught in the field to feel something in their stomachs.
“Because we saw so many people die, we became so used to it,” one prison camp survivor told the commission. “I’m sorry to say that we became so used to it that we didn’t feel anything. In North Korea, sometimes people on the verge of dying would ask for something to eat. Or when somebody died we would strip them naked and we would wear the clothes. Those alive have to go on, those dead, I’m sorry, but they’re dead.”
Jee Heon A told the commission of her time in a North Korean prison. She was sent there after being repatriated from China. She befriended a young girl, named Kim Young Hee and became like a sister to her. While they were forced to work in the fields, they looked for a type of grass to eat, as their prison rations were not enough.
“We finished our work and we were about to pick up this grass or the plant that we knew we could eat,” Jee told the commission. “And then the guards saw us, and he came running and he stepped on our hands and then he brought us to this place and he told us to kneel.”
They were forced to eat the grass along with the root and the soil as punishment. Kim became increasingly sick with diarrhea after eating the soil.
“There was nothing I could do,” Jee said. “I could not give [Kim Young Hee] any medicine. And when she died, she couldn’t even close her eyes. She died with her eyes open. I cried my heart out.”
She wrapped Kim’s body in a plastic bag and the other prisoners buried her and about 20 other bodies from the prison on a hill.