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Yeonmi Park

2015 (Narrative date)

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a source country for men, women and children who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Government oppression in the DPRK prompts many North Koreans to flee the  country in ways that make them vulnerable to human trafficking in destination countries. Many of the estimated 10 000 North Korean women and girls who have migrated illegally to China to flee abuse and human rights violation are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Some lure, drug, detain or kidnap North Korean women on their arrival, others offer jobs but subsequently force the women into prostitution, domestic service, or forced marriage. If found, Chinese authorities often repatriate victims back to the DPRK where they are subjected to harsh punishment including forced labour in labour camps or death. 

Yeonmi Park and her mother fled North Korea for China when she was 13 years old, hoping to find food and work. Instead Yeonmi and her mother were sold as brides to Chinese men.  

Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Yeonmi Park. I’m 21 years old. I was born in 1993 in North Korea, an unimaginable place, with so much suffering and no freedom. 

As a free person here today, it means a lot to me to deliver this statement on behalf of UN Watch. 

Eight years ago I escaped from my homeland by scrambling across the frozen river that divides North Korea and China. I knew that if I stayed behind I would die – from starvation, from disease, from a labor camp. My hunger was unbearable, and I hoped to find food and work in China. 

Instead the first thing I saw in China was my mother raped by a Chinese broker. I myself was sold for $260 at the age of 13 as a child bride to a human trafficker, and my mother was sold for $65. 

I spent two terrible years hiding from Chinese police who would have sent me back to North Korea. 

Finally, I made another dangerous escape across the Gobi Desert into Mongolia. It was a freezing cold, black night, and we couldn’t use our compass. So we followed the stars north, walking and crawling to freedom. 

North Korea attempts to cast doubt on any criticism of its evil acts. They have released propaganda videos calling me a “human rights propaganda puppet.” But I am here to tell you I am speaking from my heart. And my heart breaks for my relatives still in North Korea, who are unjustly suffering because I speak out against the regime. 

No dictatorship gives up power without a demand. We must demand that North Korea stop starving and oppressing its own people and respect their human rights. 

I heard this: “Never say there is no hope.” It’s the song of the Jewish Resistance fighters who fought against the most inhuman tragedy. And I have hope. I believe some day North Korean people will be free like all of us here today. 

Thank you so much for listening and bringing hope to my people. I believe that together, we can change North Korean lives.” 


Testimony given to the UNHRC courtesy of UN Watch