Standing in front of the microphone, the young girl’s voice cracked with emotions as she struggled to describe the horrors she had witnessed in her country to the packed audience at the One Young World conference. Park Yeon-mi recounted her most disturbing memories as a nine-year-old by narrating in haunting details how her best friend’s mother had been shot dead for the apparent “crime” of watching a Hollywood movie.
This is just one of the countless monstrosities that unfold frequently at the world’s most despotic and mysterious regime- North Korea.
Today around 123 out of 196 countries have attained democracy. Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq and few others are in the midst of civil wars or foreign occupation where the people fight for their rights. Secluded from the happenings of this world lies a reclusive North Korea, where people’s voices go unheard.
Dangerous, inhuman and autocratic hardly describe the tyrannous rule of Kim Jong-un who became the supreme leader of North Korea, succeeding his father Kim Jong-il in 2011. The people have no access to internet, cellphones or in short technologies, being forced to labour and to blindly believe that a world outside their country does not exist.
The story of Park Yeon-mi’s escape to Mongolia is one that the world needs to listen to for creating awareness of the cruelties being perpetuated in such despotic regimes.
Reports have stated that around 1, 20,000 people are being held at labour concentration camps, subject to the worst of conditions. The tragic death of US student Otto Warnbier, who was imprisoned for more than a year and subject to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 after being accused for attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang, is one that has shed light on the hidden horrors of the country. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued a report in 2014 documenting incidents of extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence in North Korea.
The nation’s blatant disregard for the UN and disinterest in joining the international community as peaceful member is the root of all problems. Not only does the leader ignore the wellbeing of his people, but the country’s indifference to the dreadful consequences of its nuclear missile tests is what is most shocking. The country has fired over 17 missiles during 11 tests since February and claim to be moving towards perfecting the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, which if successful would be able to reach the US. Their relentless efforts seem to be backed by the belief that the US will eventually try to remove Kim Jong Un from power.
What the people of this economically and socially stagnant country need today is the unconditional support and diplomatic interventions of powerful countries like America, UK and India. China should be made to halt repatriation of North Korean refugees who have fled persecution and help them seek political asylum.
The world can no longer afford to stay oblivious to the happenings around them, for if this happens, we will soon see the beginning of the end of humanity. Yeon-mi is just one of the countless refugees that have escaped, and if there are many more like her who are willing to speak up and unite together to fight against the injustice done to them, there is hope for change no matter how small. Nonetheless, this will take time, courage and resolution and we have a long way to go before such atrocities are no longer tolerated and authoritarian regimes become just a dreadful memory of the past.