Yeonmi Park is a young civil rights activist that fights hard for freedom in North Korea. Born in Hyesan, North Korea herself, Yeonmi knows first hand the brutal conditions that citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are living under. In 2014, the UN released a more than 400 page report detailing an entire laundry list of governmental abuses and crimes against humanity based on the testimonies of more than 300 refugees and escapees of the brutal and dictatorial regime of Kim Jong-Il, which by all accounts has not changed significantly under the regime of his son Kim Jong-Un.
In late 2014, Yeonmi delivered an impassioned and moving speech at the One Young World Summit held in Dublin, Ireland. Her speech went viral and garnered a new wave of interest in the affairs of North Korea. But outsiders were not the only ones that took interest in her speech. In early 2015, North Korea’s propaganda machine hit back by releasing an 18 minute video which was posted on a government run website. In it, they claimed that a number of Yeonmi’s claims are false, but when taken with the UN report and the testimonies of 300 others, its hard to see their video as being anything but an attempt to cast aspersions against anyone courageous enough to stand and tell the truth about the reality of the situation in North Korea.
Some of the accusations leveled against North Korea included total and complete governmental control over all actions, social encounters and interactions all the way down to an inability to hold personal beliefs that countered Party doctrine. Actions and behaviors were closely monitored by Party officials, and one woman claimed to have been sent to a hard labor camp for watching soap operas. A claim that might seem completely ludicrous on its own, but takes on a horrifying ring of truth when coupled with similar testimonies being given over and over again.
Growing up as a young girl in North Korea, Yeonmi witnessed first hand the atmosphere of complete control exercised by the government, as well as the poverty and starvation caused by a famine exacerbated by poor governmental leadership. Her own father was thrown in a hard labor camp after he was caught smuggling goods into China as a means of keeping his family alive. Yeonmi and her mother escaped through China, where they spent more than a year enduring further horrors as a result of their inability to rely on assistance or intervention by the Chinese government. The Chinese government was also censured in the UN report for their role in hunting down escaped North Korean refugees and sending them back to North Korea.
In 2014, Yeonmi was honored to be chosen as one of the BBC’s “100 Women of 2014” for her ongoing and tireless campaign against the North Korean regime. She is a regular and frequent guest on numerous radio and talk shows in hopes of keeping awareness high in South Korea of the plight their compatriots to the north.