‘Why I believe Trump was wrong to embrace Kim’
The North Korean defector escaped the country in 2007, aged 13. She is now a prominent human rights campaigner on the board of the Human Rights Foundation, as well as the author of a book about her experiences.
Yeonmi Park was 13 when she escaped North Korea. As the world celebrated Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un yesterday, she had just one question: where is the outrage over human rights?
When I saw the president of South Korea hugging Kim Jong-un, I asked myself: would you do the same with Hitler?
Now the world is cheering President Trump for engaging with one of the most brutal dictators ever. This regime has the worst human rights record on Earth. This man has concentration camps, deliberately starves people for control, and assassinates members of his own family.
People in North Korea are starving. They are sent to prison camps for saying the wrong things. They don’t have freedom of speech, they don’t have freedom of movement, and they don’t have freedom of religion... If they have any access to the Bible, or believe any other religion, they will be persecuted. And not only themselves; their families will be sent to prison camps.
I escaped North Korea when I was 13 years old. Up until then, my life was torture. I survived a famine.
I escaped North Korea when I was 13 years old. Up until then, my life was torture. I survived a famine that killed two to three million people. I ate dragonflies to survive. I passed starved dead bodies on the way to school. My father was deported to a prison camp for more than 10 years. His crime? Informal trading to find food for our family.
In George Orwell’s 1984 he talks about the importance of language. If you don’t know the word, the vocabulary, you don’t have the concept. That’s what the North Korean regime did. I did not know what human rights was. I did not know what liberty was. They didn’t create these terms for us to learn.
If you don’t know that you are slaves, how do you know that you have to fight for your freedom? We have to let North Korean people know that Kims are not gods; he’s a dictator.
President Trump, you are sitting down with this dictator without asking for any concessions.
Kim is clever. He is using this moment to sanitise his global image, and prove how supreme he is at home.
I have seen this show before.
When I was seven years old, the supreme leader, my god, met with the South Korean president. We all thought in North Korea that reunification of Korea was coming, literally tomorrow. I thought we are going to be reunified with South Korea. And guess what happened after that?
Kim Jong-il got richer, Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize.
So much aid came from the international community. And where was it all spent? Nothing has changed for North Korean people. That aid and that cash only enriched the Kim family. And with that money they built a strong military and more missiles.
If the United States is going to normalise it’s relationship with North Korea, that will be a tragedy for this world, and a tragedy for North Korean people. Because they will be forever losing the opportunity to be saved by free people. The president is supposed to stand for liberty and justice and human dignity.
So, President Trump: while you have Kim Jong-un’s attention, use it to free North Koreans. The nukes can be removed. What can be more urgent than human life?
As the leader of the free world, you must hold the worst dictator on Earth accountable.
The most heartbreaking thing to me right now is that it’s not like North Koreans need to starve. The dictator has enough money to feed his own people. But he chooses not to feed his own people because he wants to control the population. This is the dictator we are talking about.
To the American public: you have the power to tell your president he needs to fight for human rights in North Korea. Use it.
This piece is compiled from public statements made by Yeonmi Park.
- Should President Trump have focused more on human rights in his talks with Kim Jong-un?
- Write down three questions that you have for Yeonmi Park about her life in North Korea, her life now, and how it felt to leave.
- Prison camps
- In 2014, the United Nations estimated that around 120,000 people are held in the country’s four major political prison camps. Conditions in the camps are appalling, and people are sent to them without trials. This does not include people who are imprisoned for non-political reasons.
- This was caused by economic collapse in the 1990s, and is nicknamed “The March of Suffering”.
- My god
- The Kim family present themselves as gods who are above criticism. Park says she believed that Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, could read her thoughts and see her at all times.
- Nobel Peace Prize
- This was awarded to the South Korean president in 2000 for his work for “democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.”
- The US gave $1.3 billion to North Korea between 1995 and 2008 to help with the food crisis.
- Enough money
- Although it is difficult to estimate North Korea’s economy from the outside, in 2011 the GDP was put at around $12 billion. Kim Jong-un is believed to be worth around $5 billion.