Feb. 22 (UPI) -- A North Korean defector who lost an arm and a leg while foraging for food was conferred a human rights award in the South.
Ji Seong-ho, 38, was honored for his work on advancing North Korean human rights with the Han Won-chae Human Rights Award, Seoul Shinmun reported Monday. The prize is named after a North Korean defector who was forcibly repatriated after he attempted to flee the regime with his wife and three children. Han, born in 1943, died by torture in 2000, the report said.
Han Bong-hee, director of the Han Won-chae Foundation and daughter of the deceased, said her father advocated for "telling the world of the reality of North Korea, a world of darkness, so that all North Koreans can find freedom, freedom from slavery, so that they may live like human beings."
Han said Ji, a lawmaker with the main opposition People Power Party, made a "major contribution" by shedding light on North Korean rights abuses. Ji's work ultimately supported the rescue of North Korean refugees under the threat of forced repatriation, Han said.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump honored Ji during the 2018 State of the Union Address. The defector lost his limbs at age 13 after he fell and a train ran over his body. He reportedly survived the accident after surgeons in the North operated on him without anesthesia.
Ji said Monday the award was a "great honor" and that he will "strive to improve laws and institutions" to better address the protection of North Korean rights.
The defector-lawmaker has said he escaped the North by crossing into China. Refugee movements across the Korean demilitarized zone are relatively rare, but the latest defection of a North Korean man has raised concerns in the South.
News 1 reported Monday investigations into the North Korean who surrendered after crossing a DMZ buffer zone last week have concluded and results will be made public on Tuesday.
Seoul's military has said the man confessed to swimming for six hours to reach the South, but the statement has been challenged by local press reports.