Yeonmi Park–Witness for Human Rights

Desperate for a better life, Yeonmi Park’s parents brought her out of North Korea. They crossed the Yalu River into China in 2007, when Park was just 13 years old. Their escape extended across China to the Mongolian border before she and her mother were able to fly to South Korea. Yeonmi Park‘s father never made it; he died along the way. In her book In Order to Live, Park describes some of the harrowing details of the journey, including the time she was almost raped by a human trafficker. Her mother prevented the rape by offering herself, and Park had to look on while the act was performed. Abuse and hunger were constant companions. Suicide sometimes offered itself as a way out. Only the desperation of living in North Korea could have sent them on this odyssey. It wasn’t freedom they were looking for as much as food. In a land where a cold potato was a feast, severe rationing led to people actually starving in the streets. Park remembers seeing dead bodies on rubbish heaps, as well as public executions by Kim Jong-il’s brutal regime. Yeonmi Park recalls on The Reason eating flowers, grasshoppers, dragonflies, or whatever else she could get. As if life in North Korea and her struggle to escape weren’t enough, the North Korean government produced a video to discredit Park’s story. Park responded that she changed some details to protect relatives still in North Korea, and she was embarrassed by other parts, especially the rape. She also pointed out that her English is not good. “I know the truth of North Korea,” she says. “The oppression and their tragedy. It cannot be silenced”

Yeonmi Park’s North Korean Defector Story.

There are thousands of North Korean defectors with similar stories of human rights abuses, stories that are difficult to verify because North Korea is a closed and secretive country. But these defectors are compelling witnesses. In looking for food, Park found freedom. She says, “My father died without knowing even this kind of democracy exists in the world.”

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