In a series of rare and harrowing interviews, defectors have told Sky News of their horrific lives inside North Korea and their extraordinary journeys to escape the country.

The men and women agreed to talk from their new homes in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Their interviews form part of a special programme to be shown on Sky News this weekend.

Two of the defectors had spent time inside North Korea's notorious political prison camps.

Another was a tank commander in the secretive state's army before managing to escape.

One women describes, for the first time, the torture she endured at the hands of North Korean prison camp guards.

From her Seoul apartment, Cheon YoungSuk sobbed uncontrollably as she recalled the torture.

"With that plank, they hit me until it split into two or they won't stop hitting me. It must split into two. Then the beating stops. They hit me like that, they starved me, kicked me," she said.
Lee SoonShil, a defector from North Korea who made it South Korea.

"During the torture the hardest thing was they made me kneel on a chair. The guard had ridges on the bottom of his shoes. He would stand on my bare skin and start twisting (his feet).

"When bare skin and shoe soles are twisted with pressure it grinds the skin. That was the most hard. That was the time I shouted. It hurt too much.

"Because it hurt too much I shouted to him to grind faster. Twist faster to finish it more quickly.

"They wrapped my hair on their hand and start smashing my face on the corner of the desk.... [they are] crueller than beasts. How could a human do that to another human?"

On Thursday, diplomats addressed the United Nations saying that North Korea must act immediately to halt its "litany of abuses" and "crimes against humanity".

"We note with concern that... human rights violations and crimes against humanity continue to take place with impunity," British UN representative Karen Pierce told the Geneva forum.

North Korea denies the existence of prison camps. It reacted angrily to a United Nations Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry (COI), published in February.

The COI conducted scores of interviews with defectors all of whom told stories similar to those heard by Sky News.

The UN body concluded that "systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed" by North Korea.

It said that "the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world".

It described a catalogue of "unspeakable atrocities" which amounted to "crimes against humanity".

The report is currently being considered at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

The detailed findings of the report were also discussed at informal meeting of the UN Security Council two weeks ago. However, two members of the council, Russia and China, both historically allied to North Korea, failed to attend.
The Defectors - Sky News Special Programme

Speaking after the informal meeting, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, said he was disappointed that China and Russia failed to attend but still hoped that the UN would now act against North Korea.

"The time has come for effective action from the United Nations," he said.

"If ever there is to be a case for referral of a matter to the International Criminal Court, it is difficult to imagine a stronger case than has been made out in the case of North Korea.

"If this is not a case for such a referral, it is difficult to imagine what would be."

The level of abuse uncovered in North Korea, both in the UN report and the interviews conducted by Sky News has been compared to some of the abuses during the holocaust of World War Two.

Mr Kirby said that the descriptions he heard reminded him of Holocaust abuses.

He said: "I never thought that in my professional life, my life as a judge or as an officer of the United Nations, I would sit there and hear descriptions that were so similar to the descriptions of what went on in those places.

"I thought we had said as a world community, 'never again'.

"I thought that was what the charter of the United Nations was about. I thought that was why in the charter it speaks of international peace and security and the protection of universal human rights together."

Broadcast on Sky News UK on 2 May 2014

Film Duration: 22 min