In the early months of 2014, the UN released a long-anticipated 400 page report detailing a ghastly number of governmental abuses committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-Il. The report was compiled from extensive interviews conducted with more than 300 escapees from the state, most of whom had experienced firsthand many of the torturous methods used by various government officials and described in the report. Charges ranged from mass starvation to rape, torture and infanticide from within the many state run hard labor camps. In total, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are estimated to have died in the camps in the past 5 decades, and hundreds of thousands more have been tortured, beaten and starved nearly to death. One witness testified to being starved so severely that his weight dropped an alarming 86 pounds in a brief 10 month period.
One young person who has witnessed firsthand many of the atrocities detailed in the report is young Yeonmi Park. Park is a North Korean defector who made her way out with her mother in 2007, when her father was arrested and sentenced to 27 years in the forced labor camps. In an article in Independent, following his arrest and sentencing, they watched his health deteriorate rapidly before their very eyes as he experienced the same beatings and abominable conditions detailed in the UN report.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was not the only government chastised in the UN report. The Chinese government was also singled out for their participation in sending escaped North Koreans back to North Korea to face harsh and severe punishments once they returned.
While Yeon-mi and her mother managed to elude Chinese authorities during their time in China, they did not escape being raped and sold into sex trafficking. They were eventually able to half walk and crawl their way across a stretch of the Gobi desert into Mongolia where they were given shelter at the South Korean embassy. Now living in Seoul, South Korea, Yeon-mi is determined to not allow the world – or the South Korean government – to turn a blind eye to the plight of North Korea.
As a regular guest on South Korean radio and television shows, she keeps the North Korea in the forefront of the public eye. In 2014, she was invited to speak at the One Young World Summit in Dublin, Ireland, where she delivered an impassioned address that left few dry eyes in the building. That speech went viral and gained her a new following of sympathizers to her cause. The North Korean government reacted swiftly by releasing an 18 minute video of her aunt and uncle attempting to denounce her claims, but too many of them have been too well documented by others making the same claims to simply dismiss the validity of her story.