February 25, 2024

Critique, but don’t dismiss, N. Korean refugee testimony

Past treatment of Soviet, Cambodian atrocity survivors highlights dangers of disregarding defector's stories

The last few years have been marked by a growing interest in (and debate over) North Korean refugee testimony, especially related to the cases of political persecution. Indeed, a couple of books authored or co-authored by refugees got into best-seller lists recently, with Blaine Harden’s book Escape from Camp 14, which tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, being best known. The frequent public speeches by some refugees, notably Yeonmi Park, have attracted attention as well.

These marks something of a sea change, since until the late 2000s, the former North Korean prison inmates, with the notable exception of Kang Chol-hwan, had remained largely silent in the English-speaking world.