You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

U.S. puts N.K. leader Kim Jong Un on sanctions list for human rights abuses

USA TODAY USA TODAY 6/07/2016 Oren Dorell
Replay Video

The United States for the first time has put North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the U.S. sanctions list for human rights abuses. 

The announcement Wednesday also included the first human rights sanctions on 22 other individuals and entities.

North Korea's government "continues to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, forced labor, and torture," the State Department said in its announcement of the sanctions.

Many abuses are committed in political prison camps called kwanliso, which hold 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners, including children and family members of the accused, the report said. The government also maintains a system of forced labor and restricts the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, religion and movement of its citizens, the State Department said.

Three senior U.S. officials briefed reporters in a conference call on the action, which is a result of a years-long investigation by the State Department and Treasury, and a law passed by Congress earlier this year that mandated an assessment of the North Korean leader's responsibility for his country's human rights record. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the matter before it was officially made public.

Other heads of state sanctioned in the past for abusing the human rights of their own citizens include: Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Bashar Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The U.S. sanctions for the first time identify managers of forced labor camps in North Korea, people responsible for enforcing ideological purity and executions, and for tracking down and killing defectors who've fled the country, the U.S. officials said.

Among the individuals named are:

•Kang Song Nam, director of the Prisons Bureau in the Ministry of State Security, which uses torture, deliberate starvation and sexual violence as the lead agency investigating political crimes and administering the country’s network of political prison camps.

•Choe Chang Pong, director of the Ministry of Public Security, responsible for internal security, social control, censorship and riot suppression. Ministry officers also use torture and sexual violence to extract confessions, the State Department report said.

•Jo Yon Jun, vice director of North Korea's Organization and Guidance Department, which enforces ideological discipline.

• Cho Il-U and O Chong-Kuk, officials of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which hunts down defectors after they flee North Korea.

Thad McBride, an international trade attorney at the law firm Bass, Berry & Sims, said the sanctions are mostly symbolic, especially since they include Kim Jong Un, but more action could follow.

U.S. companies would be prohibited from doing business with Kim or any companies he controls, and any assets he owns in the U.S. would be frozen, McBride said. The sanctions would also impact U.S. companies doing business with foreign companies, in China for example, that are owned by Kim or other persons or entities named in the new sanctions list.

An executive order signed by President Obama in March gives the U.S. Treasury broad authority “to cut them (North Korea) off from the U.S. economy,” McBride said. “What the government has been doing is piece-by-piece and person-by-person ratcheting up the sanctions.”

The listing is the most comprehensive effort by any government to name individuals responsible for specific actions in North Korea, the officials said. It was compiled with help from international rights monitors and civil society groups, the Korean Institute for National Reunification and testimony and recordings by North Korean defectors who described raids by security officials, and personal accounts of executions, the U.S. officials said.

The U.S. action follows a 2014 report by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which focused on a system of forced labor camps in North Korea.

The sanctions will have a worldwide ripple effect because they make it risky for any financial institution or entity around the world to hold assets for the individuals and entities named, one senior administration official said.

“Removing anonymity of someone who manages forced labor camps is novel in North Korea and we think it will have an impact,” another senior administration official said. "This sends a message to mid-level officials that if they participate in these activities we will know who they are." 


image beaconimage beaconimage beacon