Yeon-Mi Park — An Inside Look at One of the BBC’s Top 100 Women

Small and slight with an angelic face dominated by a pair of huge brown eyes, Yeon-Mi Park looks almost childlike as she stands on a stage in front of an audience with its breath held in anticipation. When she opens her mouth to speak, however, the voice that comes out of the 21-year-old is older than its age. “I have witnessed brutality and violence, and I cannot be silent,” she tells her audience.

The sad part is that it is true. In her short time on earth, Yeon-Mi Park has witnessed dozens or even hundreds of acts of violence against both men and women, in her home country of North Korea as well as in China where she defected with her family. One of the incidents she witnessed was the rape of her own mother by a broker who helped the family escape North Korea. She has also seen people tortured, beaten and denied basic human rights on a regular basis. However, growing up as one of North Korea’s “Black Market Generation,” she soon discovered there was a world outside the horror.

She was recently selected as one of the BBC’s “100 Women of 2014,” and the honor may seem spectacular. However, after hearing her story, it almost seems that Yeon-Mi Park should have been granted much more than an award by a project whose stated goal is to “represent women better in its international news output.”

That is not the way Park sees it. She was flattered and honored to be named to the prestigious list. When asked how she built up the courage to speak on behalf of North Korean people, she replied, “I don’t think it’s a very special thing. As a human being, I cannot forget them. How can I be free here from all the scenes and the things that I went through?”

Park came to international attention when she delivered an emotional speech at the 2014 One Young World summit in Dublin. She described her horrific ordeal of escaping North Korea and the routine abuses of human rights that occured in that nation as well as in China. She noted that women in particular are victims of regular abuse, citing sex slavery and other crimes against them. “All the other girls are being sold for 200 dollars,” she said. “As a human being, I just cannot forget them. Yeon-Mi Park — An Inside Look at One of the BBC’s Top 100 Women (iReport) Small and slight with an angelic face dominated by a pair of huge brown eyes, Yeon-Mi Park looks almost childlike as she stands on a stage in front of an audience with its breath held in anticipation. When she opens her mouth to speak, however, the voice that comes out of the 21-year-old is older than its age. “I have witnessed brutality and violence, and I cannot be silent,” she tells her audience.

The sad part is that it is true. In her short time on earth, Yeon-Mi Park has witnessed dozens or even hundreds of acts of violence against both men and women, in her home country of North Korea as well as in China where she defected with her family. One of the incidents she witnessed was the rape of her own mother by a broker who helped the family escape North Korea. She has also seen people tortured, beaten and denied basic human rights on a regular basis. However, growing up as one of North Korea’s “Black Market Generation,” she soon discovered there was a world outside the horror.

She was recently selected as one of the BBC’s “100 Women of 2014,” and the honor may seem spectacular. However, after hearing her story, it almost seems that Yeon-Mi Park should have been granted much more than an award by a project whose stated goal is to “represent women better in its international news output.”

That is not the way Park sees it. She was flattered and honored to be named to the prestigious list. When asked how she built up the courage to speak on behalf of North Korean people, she replied, “I don’t think it’s a very special thing. As a human being, I cannot forget them. How can I be free here from all the scenes and the things that I went through?”

Park came to international attention when she delivered an emotional speech at the 2014 One Young World summit in Dublin. She described her horrific ordeal of escaping North Korea and the routine abuses of human rights that occured in that nation as well as in China. She noted that women in particular are victims of regular abuse, citing sex slavery and other crimes against them. “All the other girls are being sold for 200 dollars,” she said. “As a human being, I just cannot forget them. As a human being, I just have to do this.”

Park did not always realize that human rights were available to everyone in other parts of the world. Before becoming an activist, her life in the world’s most secret nation led to her belief that her country’s rules were the norm. Once she escaped and realized that in other parts of the globe women were treated fairly, she began to speak out.

“I heard a few years ago, that all humans are equal, and that everyone has human rights,” Park said. “And I just couldn’t believe that humans were this generous. I believe in humanity, and that we all are going to help them out from that terror.”

This belief has carried her through many trials and difficulties. In her short life, she has had to endure terror in the form of violence to her family members and the frightening experience of escaping a totalitarian regime. Today, she lives in South Korea and advocates for human rights across the globe. As a criminal justice major at the Dongguk University in Seoul, Park spends what time she does not use for her studies in activities designed to raise global awareness of the human rights violations that regularly occur in North Korea.

So far, Park has been featured as a guest on numerous radio and television shows, including Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, BBC2 and SBS Insight. She is also a regular guest on a South Korean television show Now On My Way To Meet You. This program is unique in that is freely addresses the issues dividing North and South Koreans in an effort to promote unity. Park herself believes that if North Koreans are to be set free from oppression, it will happen through unity with their Southern Korean counterparts. “There is no North and South Korean, only Korea,” notes Park.

Park’s volunteer activism has led her to reach out in both the human rights field and specifically to North Korean refugees, with whom she feels a special affinity. She volunteers with Now, Action, Unity and Human Rights (NAUH) and is the Volunteer Ambassador of Teach North Korean Refugees.

“It comes down to being human, part of the human race,” says Park. As a member of the human race, she stands firm in believing that her actions can impact others who are suffering. “If I did not help them in any way I can, how can I call myself human?” she notes.

Her work with human rights has gained her international acclaim and made the problems of North Korea that much harder for world governments to ignore. Perhaps in time, the efforts of Park and those like her will lead to a toppling of North Korea’s totalitarian government and a return of human rights to those in this forgotten part of the world.

For more information on Yeon-Mi Park, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/yeon-mi-park-the-hopes-of-north-koreas-black-market-generation/2014/05/25/dcab911c-dc49-11e3-8009-71de85b9c527_story.html as well as http://www.chinasmack.com/2014/pictures/north-korean-refugee-park-yeon-mi-chinese-netizen-reactions.html and http://youngvoicesadvocates.com/advocate/yeonmi-park-2/ . See also http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1249644

About Yeon-Mi Park:

Born in Hyesan, North Korea, Yeon-Mi Park is currently majoring in criminal justice at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, and has been featured as a guest on the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, BBC2 and SBS Insight as well as being a regular guest on the South Korean television show Now On My Way To Meet You, a program that addresses the gap between North and South Koreans. Park is also a Media Fellow at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. and co-host of the podcast Casey Lartigue and Yeon-Mi Park Show. She is a volunteer with Now, Action, Unity and Human Rights (NAUH) as well as the Ambassador of Teach North Korean Refugees.

Contact:

Yeon-Mi Park

Dongguk University

Seoul, South Korea

http://youngvoicesadvocates.com/advocate/yeonmi-park-2/

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