He has been ridiculed as a Bible-thumping nut who risked not only life and limb, but also US foreign policy goals by waltzing into North Korea, decrying the human rights abuses many believe to be widely perpetrated by Kim Jong-il’s regime.
Robert Park, the Korean-American missionary who this time last year was languishing in a North Korean incarceration facility, is now back in the bosom of Seoul, the place where before his fateful journey he plotted the development of a global movement to ‘free all North Koreans.’
And he’s not happy about what he’s seeing today. In a rare interview, Park has lambasted the latest swing in relations on the Korean Peninsula that has seen momentum picking up for a return to the six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programme.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Indeed, only last week, the US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, visited Seoul in what was the latest move aimed at kick-starting the mothballed discussions involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
Park caught international attention after he marched across the frozen Tumen River that straddles the border separating the North and China on Christmas Day, 2009, demanding Kim release the hundreds of thousands of people said to be held in prison camps around the country.
Park believes the North Korean regime is engaging in the ‘genocide’ of its own people, and says he’s speaking out now with a sense of ‘righteous anger’ at the apparent lurch back toward the six-party talks, which he believes would ultimately amount to a disaster.
‘We shouldn’t reward their bad behaviour. That’s what the six-party talks will do,’ he says gazing downward. ‘We’ve been here before. The aid doesn’t go to the people. Giving money doesn’t help. It’s time for us to address the human rights situation in a meaningful way—the time has long passed, in fact.’
Parks says that the six-party talks nations should back South Korea when it stands up to Pyongyang, arguing that understandable security worries over the nuclear issue only help the regime divert attention from its human rights abuses.
‘We need to help the refugees,’ he says. ‘We need mass demonstration.’
In what appeared to be another major about-face, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak recently indicated his country had been left with ‘no choice but to resolve the problem of dismantling North Korea's nuclear programme diplomatically through the six-party talks.’ But Park believes the plight of the North Korean people and not talking with the regime should be the top priority.
‘This is about accountability,’ says the 29-year-old Park. ‘If there’s just one word to describe what the North Korean regime has done, it’s genocide. Millions of people have starved to death.’