Hometown Journey

Yeonmi Park – The Globetrotting Human Rights Activist

Human rights activists are best known for their role in bringing out human rights violation in the public domain and campaigning for the restoration of such rights. For this, they get involved in various campaigns such as prevention of hate crimes, campaigns for civil and political rights, and many others.

Here, we talk about Yeonmi Park, a young human rights activist who fled North Korea after witnessing the torture and killing of friends and family.

Yeonmi Park – Background

Park Yeon-mi was born on 4th October 1993, in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, North Korea.

She was born in an educated and politically connected family. While her father was in civil service, working at Hyesan town hall for the ruling Worker’s Party, her mother was a nurse, serving the North Korea Army.

Park’s family was rich by North Korean standards. Nonetheless, her father would later establish a metal smuggling business in the capital, Pyongyang, where he spent the better part of the year leaving his wife and daughters – Park has an elder sister, Eunmi – in Hyesan.

The illegal business led to his father being arrested in 2002 and sent to a 17 years’ incarceration in a forced labor camp. The family was condemned to starvation and struggling to earn a living.

Escape from North Korea

It is after watching a smuggled DVD of the 1997 Titanic movie, which Park’s eyes were opened with regards to the North Korean government’s oppressive rule. According to her, she not only learned the true meaning of love from the movie, but she also felt “a taste of freedom.”

On reuniting with his family, Park’s father decided to escape North Korea; as the only option left to evade starvation and eventually, death. The women would go before him.

In 2007, Eunmi went first, crossing the freezing river into China. Yeonmi and her mother would later follow her. It was an arduous journey, highlighted by terrible hardships and hiding from Chinese authorities, lest they were caught and repatriated to North Korea.

Some of the excruciating challenges included Yeonmi’s mother being raped by traffickers, and her sister getting lost and being presumed dead. While her father eventually joined them, he, unfortunately, succumbed to colon cancer.

Finally, on a cold night in early 2009, Park and her mother managed to cross a stretch of the Gobi desert into Mongolia. The South Korean embassy became their sanctuary. Five years later, Eunmi managed to escape, and they were reunited in Seoul.


Yeonmi Park often felt that the world had forgotten her. She is today driven by the determination that the world should never forget the people of North Korea; who are in misery and dying each day.

She traverses the world with the sole aim of talking about her experiences and raising awareness on the plight of her people. The globetrotting activist also capitalizes on the power of social media to tell the world about the human rights violations in North Korea.