North Korea is probably one of the most talked about countries in the world, yet most people do not know many details about the inner workings of the hermit nation. Ever since the three year Korean war ended in 1953, Korea has been bitterly divided into two nations – the Russian and the Chinese supported North Korea and the American and the United Nations supported South Korea. The division of the Korean peninsula has left the northern region essentially cutoff from the rest of the world under dictatorial rule.
Postwar North Korea betrayed its own people by implementing inhumane restrictions and laws, labor camps, concentration camps and citizen purges, which resulted in the death of over a million people. These atrocities still continue up unto this very day. As a result of the horrendous living conditions in North Korea, many people have attempted to defect from the region. This has proven to be a nearly impossible task, for the North Korean border is heavily fortified. In addition, defectors who are caught are subjected to imprisonment, torture and death. To deter would-be defectors and to punish successful defectors, the North Korean government implements a practice of imprisoning and torturing friends, neighbors and up to three generations of family members who are related to the defectors.
The threat of harm to associates and relatives of defectors have discouraged many people from attempting to escape from North Korea. However, every year desperation compels dozens of North Korean citizens to make the dangerous journey out of the region, and some of the defectors have successfully escaped. One of the success stories is that of a charismatic lady named Yeonmi Park. Her epic escape is a tale of legend on youtube, for Yeonmi and her mother crawled and walked across a frozen desert, crossed a frozen river and traversed three mountains to defect to China by way of Mongolia in 2007.
Park’s harrowing story received global attention after she gave a speech at the One Young World Summit in Dublin, Ireland in 2014. Her riveting first-hand testimony about life in North Korea brought more awareness to the unimaginable living conditions there. For example, when Park was nine years old she and her sister, who was 11 years old at the time, had to eat grass, insects and flowers just to survive after their father was sentenced to 17 years in prison for selling items across the Chinese border and after their mother was subsequently incarcerated and interrogated for three years as a result of his imprisonment.
Park has echoed the sentiments of other defectors about how North Koreans are not permitted to speak, dress or think independently. She claims that she was so brainwashed by the North Korean propaganda machine that she thought that the North Korean dictator could hear her thoughts. Her account of executions for minor infractions include a tale of how her mother’s friend was publicly executed for watching a Hollywood movie.
Park currently lives in South Korea, and she is a world-renowned activist, author and speaker. She has dedicated her life to educating the global community about the conditions of North Koreans, and her ultimate goal is to contribute to the liberation of the North Korean people.