Small But Fierce, Yeon-mi Park is a Mighty Force for Change
In November 2014, the UN released a report detailing a host of unspeakable crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean government. The crimes detailed included such atrocities as infanticide, forced labor, torture, rape and execution – most of which were committed in North Korea’s political prison camp system. The report recommended that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court and the resolution passed by a vote of 111 to 19.
This is welcome news for young political activist Yeon-mi Park, who has spent the better part of her first adult years vocally campaigning for freedom on youtube.com for her native country. Having been born in 1993 in Heysan, North Korea, Yeon-mi has witnessed firsthand many of the atrocities listed in the UN report. One of her earliest memories includes having to watch her best friend’s mother be executed by a firing squad for an incredibly small, minor infraction. Her own father was one of the many who experienced the harsh treatment and beating of the forced labor camps, where he had been sent after being caught smuggling precious metals into China as a means to support his family during a crippling famine in North Korea.
Yeon-mi, her mother and younger sister all made the treacherous winter trek across the frozen Yalu river into China. Once there, her mother was raped, her sister was lost and presumed dead, and Yeon-mi was sold into the sex-trafficking industry. A much older man promised to get her father out of North Korea if young Yeon-mi would become his mistress. She agreed and he eventually made good on his promise. Unfortunately, her father died soon after and Yeonmi Park was forced to bury him alone in the cold dead-of-night.
Eventually, Yeon-mi and her mother managed to walk and crawl their way across a stretch of the Gobi desert into Mongolia, where they sought refuge at the South Korean embassy. From there, they were transported to Seoul, South Korea where they now reside. Miraculously, Yeon-mi’s younger sister Eun-mi was reunited with them five years later. Today, Yeon-mi is working with a collaborator on a book about her struggles and the plight of her nation. She maintains an active media presence and travels around the globe speaking about her story and shining light on the harsh realities of life in the country of her birth.
In late 2014, her speech at the One Young World Summit in Dublin, Ireland went viral and she quickly became the face of North Korea’s struggle. Her message clearly reached more than just the supporters of change, as in early 2015 the North Korean government responded by posting an 18 minute video on one of their government run websites entitled “The Human Rights Propaganda Puppet, Yeon-mi Park.” Yeon-mi considers it something of a feather in her cap that she is making enough noise as to have the attention of the highest echelons of North Korea’s government.
Calling to mind the famous Shakespearean quote “though she be but little, she is fierce” Yeon-mi Park is rapidly becoming a pint-sized nuclear force for change.