Interview with North Korea border crosser Robert Park
(Photographs by Lee Jae-won)
North Korea said on Tuesday it had detained a U.S. citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the
state to raise awareness about Pyongyang’s human rights abuses. Robert Park, 28, walked over the frozen Tumen river from
China and into the North last Friday, other activists said. The Korean-American told Reuters ahead of the crossing that it was his duty as a
Christian to make the journey and that he was carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to step down.
Park had an exclusive interview with Reuters last week before starting on his journey. The following are excerpts from the conversation. He requested that the comments be held until he was in North Korea.
Reuters: Why are you planning to go into North Korea?
Robert Park: The North Korean human rights crisis by murder rate is the worst in the world. An estimated 1,000 people a day die by starvation and starvation is a murder case. North Korea has been sent more food aid than any nation in the world but the food has not gone to the people who need it. So this is murder.
But not only that, there are concentration camps in North Korea that are of the same brutality as in Nazi Germany.
Responsible governments are completely silent about the issue. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have a huge responsibility to speak out about this because all these nations played a role the arbitrary division of the Koreas, where not a single Korean was consulted. Yet the lives of these people are of no issue to these governments. That is a crime. It is a huge crime
What is happening in North Korea is genocide. We know there are legitimate fears about what could happen through nuclear weapons. But a nation that runs concentration camps, a nation that kills men, women and children without any kind of restraint can never be trusted.
We believe the resolution to this whole crisis is simply addressing North Korea honestly about this has to change.
We do not hate people. I am Christian, but I do have to say that this is not a legitimate government. We cannot talk to North Korea as if it is a legitimate government, but we need to liberate North Korea. We need to have a vision for the unification of Korea. It has to happen immediately because people are dying by the thousands every single day.
Reuters: By going into North Korea, how can you change this? You are going in well aware of the dangers
Park: My demand is that I do not want to be released. I don’t want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free. Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will. I am Christian and it says in the Bible that we must love the lost. We must love the poor and the needy. We must love them more than ourselves.
(For) these innocent men, women and children, as Christians, we need to take the cross for them. The cross means that we sacrifice our lives for the redemption of others.
I am going in for the sake of the lives of the North Korean people. And if he (Kim Jong-il) kills me, in a sense, I realize this is better. Then the governments of the world will become more prone to say something, and more embarrassed and more forced to make a statement.
This is serious and it is a crime that America is committing against the North Korean people by not speaking out against this. President Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize and I love President Obama and the American government, but they are committing a serious crime.
Through the media and through sacrifice, we are looking for the global leaders to be forced to give an account. There is no excuse.
We also want the church to repent. The South Korean church needs to repent. There has been so much playing around and honestly, there is no time to play games. The priority of every single person in South Korea must be to end this holocaust of lives.
I was going to go next month but what happened was that here in Korea there has been certain things that have endangered my going next month. That is why I am going right now. Because certain people have found out and are trying to prevent me from going.
Initially Christmas Day was what they were thinking of. It is the coldest time. It is the most difficult time for me to go physically and also on Christmas Day it is such a symbolic day. Worldwide is the most renowned day. It is the happiest day for most of the world but for North Korea, it is like hell.
I have to share their suffering. That is why I am asking every person who cares about North Korea, let us arise and let us demonstrate. Let us see mass demonstrations. This is not a personal agenda.
I think I may not live much longer. My personal desire is to be married and to have a future. I am laying that all down because of Jesus Christ and because God loves these people, he does not want them to die.
Reuters: Do you think you will be able to get support from governments including the United States because you are making this choice on your own, fully aware of what may well happen?
Park: I want Kim Jong-il and the North Korean government to know that I love them. I love all these people. I am going in because it has to change, for the sake of the children, the men and the women who are being brutally murdered.
But as long as this genocide continues, I have no choice. I have great sorrow for Kim Jong-il. The North Korean people have been brainwashed from youth and they do not know what the truth is.
I had a vision on July 27, which was the beginning of the demonstration movement. I am not someone who was a part of the human rights movement officially. I was someone who was praying and sharing in the physical help of refugees one by one. I had a vision where God revealed that there needs to be a mass demonstration movement for North Korean human rights. That there will be liberation of the North Korean people. There will be a global compensation movement for a measurable loss and suffering. There will be calls for unification. And there will be reconciliation between North and South Koreans.
I am making this choice on my own because it is too slow right now. There has never been a mass demonstration for North Korean human rights and there needs to be.
Last year, there were hundreds of thousands of people in South Korea demonstrating for this ridiculous thing about the kind of beef we were getting in South Korea. There was nothing to it. What does it say about our generation that we can be mobilised to demonstrate about the kind of beef we are getting and we cannot demonstrate for people who are our own kin who are dying by the thousands every day for no reason at all.
One of the issues in South Korea is that there has been a competition among North Korean human rights groups. People are saying that ‘I want to be in the leadership’. It is ridiculous. With that kind of political fighting, trying to be number one, there will never be mass demonstrations because people are selling the issue for their own gain. I am not saying that everyone is doing that.
My hope is that through going to North Korea, my sacrifice, that there will be a profound repentance among the church and also among human rights ministries – that there will not longer be quarrelling and competition.
Reuters: Do you see the possibility of your imprisonment helping Kim Jong-il. The North Korean leaders have used others, like the U.S journalists, who have crossed into its territory as bargaining chips. Do you see your actions as having the potential to help the North Korean leaders you want to see removed?
Park: I am aware of this and have been hesitating for a long time. As a result of what happened to the journalists, I was speaking to a refugee friend of mine, she said it was one of the best things that happened for North Korea’s liberation. This was shortly after it happened and they were freed. But now it has become worse because the journalists have not spoken out about the human rights crisis. They were ransomed for a lot of money and they went home and wrote a book.
Ultimately, I am more tortured if I allow North Koreas to be like this. The difference with these journalists is that they were kidnapped against their will. I am going in saying either kill me or take me. I am saying to the governments of the world, do not try to ransom me out but address the human rightscrisis.