Defector Voices: Park Ji-hyun



There is no better testament to the ongoing human rights challenges in North Korea than refugees speaking in their own voices. Thanks to Betsy Kawamura, we were alerted to the story of Park Ji-hyun, relayed through a well-produced Amensty International YouTube video. Much of the story is sadly familiar: the deprivation of the famine era, stories of family loss, trafficking, abuse in China, separation from her son. Among the details in Park’s account is her internment in a “labor camp,” the nominally more lax portion of the prison system reserved for economic crimes and border-crossing that appeared to only have economic motives. As we found in Witness to Transformation, conditions in these camps approached those in the larger political concentration camps, and Park confirms these findings. In Orwellian fashion, sadistic guards are called “teachers.” Inmates were organized to terrace land in the mountain around the camp with their bare hands. Deprived of food, she contracted tetanus and was discharged rather than treated. She was finally reunited with her son, who had led the equal if not worse fate of the homeless orphan or kotjebi. The International Red Cross has made important strides in gaining access to North Korea in the context of natural disasters and emergencies, and it played a role in North-South relations around family reunions. But it is still denied access to the penal system. With the regime appearing to crack down on the border, there is no reason to believe that the conditions described by Park have fundamentally changed. 

Witness to Transformation Reviews of Defector Memoirs, Testimony and Interviews

Yeonmi Park, In Order Live: a North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, Part I, Part II 

Jang Jin-Sung: Dear Leader

Eunsun Kim: A Thousand Miles to Freedom

On Shin Don-hyuk: Escape from Camp 14; The Case Against--and For--Shin Dong-hyuk; The DPRK on Shin Dong-hyuk

Lucia Jang: Stars Between the Sun and Moon (afterward by Stephan Haggard) 

Sandra Fahy: Marching Through Suffering 

Yeonmi Park Talk "I Am a North Korean Millenial"

Hyeonseo Lee TED Talk: My Escape from North Korea

Joseph Kim TED Talk: Hunger is Humiliation

Green and Epstein on On My Way to Meet You

Committee on Human Rights in North Korea Intern Memoirs

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