Robert Park Opens Up About Torture, Plans to Sue North Korea
Robert Park, a Korean-American missionary who was tortured during his time in a North Korean prison camp, has never opened up to the media with specifics of what happened to him while he was a prisoner, until now.
Park recently shared with Yonhap News Agency just some of the abuse he suffered after he illegally crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea on Christmas Day 2009. After being beaten by North Korean soldiers, he was taken to Pyongyang, the nation's capital, where he was sexually tortured and abused.
"Several North Korean women surrounded me and did the worst thing to me to try to make me commit suicide," Park told Yonhap News Agency. He was placed in a brightly lit room, where a group of women beat his genitals with a club to "make me not to have a baby and get married forever," he said.
While he was being tortured, Park said one woman challenged his faith by saying, "If your God is so great, why doesn't He save you?" Another expressed her anti-American sentiments when she said, "We hate Yankees."
Park, who is from Tucson, Ariz., was also beaten and tortured by men, with his arms tied behind his back, until he screamed in agony. While he was being abused he told those who were harming him, "God loves you," but also begged for death to come upon himself. He says to this day that death is the only thing that can take the trauma of those days of torture away from him.
The 31-year-old missionary and activist, who still struggles with flashbacks of his torture and has attempted suicide twice since being released from North Korea in February 2010, said he is finally making some details known about his imprisonment to draw attention to the human rights violations that are occurring in North Korea today.
He also has plans to file a lawsuit against North Korea in U.S. courts within the next year.
"I'm not interested in a financial settlement, but in speaking out against the regime's mass atrocities and I will devote any money earned to funding anti-Pyongyang forces within North Korea," said Park.
Part of Park's inspiration to sue the nation comes from the case of the USS Pueblo crew members who were awarded $65 million in damages in 2008 for having been captured and tortured by North Korea in 1968. The damages were awarded by the courts to three crew members and the widow of the ship's captain.
Dan Gilbert, an Illinois attorney who helped the USS Pueblo crew members with their case, said Park represents thousands if not millions of Christians worldwide that are being persecuted. Park has not yet reached out to Gilbert about his lawsuit.
Gilbert said the members of the USS Pueblo also experienced terrible torture while in North Korea, which left some of them to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disorders that affect their lives to this day.
"They experienced physical, emotional, mental, spiritual torture for nearly a year-long period. They had food deprivation. Often they were subjected to physical torture that would go on for lengthy period of time. And it appeared, to them, that often it was done at the pleasure of the soldiers but for no other purpose than their particular satisfaction," Gilbert told The Christian Post on Thursday.
One of the biggest issues in lawsuits against nations like North Korea, Gilbert said, is even if the judgment is in favor of the plaintiff it can be difficult to collect the damages awarded by the courts.
He also stated that leaders like President Barack Obama appear to be more concerned with getting along with nations that persecute Christians than they are in taking a stance that supports the victims of human rights violations.
Gregory Stanton, the founder and president of Genocide Watch, said his organization is supportive of Park. Stanton said the Korean-American missionary has a good case under the U.S. Torture Victims Protection Act, which he called "extraordinary legislation" because it is one of few laws that give courts "universal jurisdiction."
Stanton, who is a Christian, also serves as the chair of the International Alliance to End Genocide and is a research professor in genocide studies and prevention at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
Genocide Watch is not a legal organization, but Stanton is a human rights lawyer. He previously worked for the State Department, where he drafted United Nations Security Council resolutions that resulted in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Burundi Commission of Inquiry and the Central African Arms Flow Commission.
Stanton believes that there are several reasons why the North Korean genocide problem has not gotten the attention it deserves. The Cold War detracted from the issue several decades ago, and current concerns over North Korea's access to nuclear weapons and naivety on how to negotiate with the nation have held back progress in dealing with human rights issues there.
But a lawsuit like Park's, he said, could be helpful in waking people up to the problem.
"So getting attention really paid to the terrible human rights violations in North Korea I think is very, very useful. And a lawsuit like this will help to do that," he said. "You have to find a hook. You have to find a way to get people to look and say, 'My God, I had no idea that it was that bad in North Korea.'"