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Sanctions Imposed Against North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un

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On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced that it was imposing sanctions against North Korea’s leader, personally, for the first time citing “notorious abuses of human rights.” His government has been aggressively pushing forward on its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. 

Individual Officials Sanctioned

In a highly unusual move, the State Department personally named Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, and 10 of his senior officials, along with five ministries and departments. In doing so, it said that the group was responsible for grave human rights abuses in a five page report detailing the matter. The report named top officials in North Korea’s intelligence and security ministries, which the State Department claims have engaged in extra judicial killings, forced labor, and torture.

In a statement, acting Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Adam J. Szubin, said,

“Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, and torture.”

Kim Jong Un was on top of the list of people responsible for serious human rights abuses in North Korea, according to the State Department report to Congress. The Treasury Department statement said that he had “engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea.”

Assets Frozen, but Still Partly Symbolic

In imposing its first human rights sanctions on any North Korean official, the Treasury Department has designated them on a list of people whose assets are frozen and who are also barred from transactions with any American Citizen. At the same time, Senior U.S. administration officials said that the sanctions would be partly “symbolic” in the hopes that naming officials would act as a deterrent to abuses.

The officials said that the findings in the report to Congress are based on an earlier U.N. report and accounts from civil society groups and the South Korean government. They said that the report is “the most comprehensive” to date of the roles that individual North Korean officials have played in forced labor and repression.

Sanctions Earlier This Year

In March, President Obama imposed sweeping sanctions against North Korea when the nation conducted its fourth nuclear test and also conducted a rocket launch which the U.S. and its allies claimed used banned ballistic missile technology.

Similar to the sanctions on Wednesday, those froze any property that the North Korean government – as opposed individual officials – have in the United States and prohibited any transactions, effectively outlawing exports of goods from the United States to North Korea.

In the same month, the U.N. Security Council approved and imposed similar sanctions against the nation. The Security Council stopped short of referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court – something that the U.N. General Assembly recommended – because of the likelihood of a veto by China.

More Sanctions to Come

John Kirby, spokesman for the State Department, said that many of the abuses were conducted in political prison camps, where it is estimated that somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000 people are held. That number includes children and relatives of the accused. Mr. Kirby stated that the U.S. would identify more individuals and entities in future reports. Mr. Kirby stated that,

“We aim to send a signal to all government officials who might be responsible for human rights abuses, including prison camp managers and guards, interrogators, and defector chasers, with the goal of changing their behavior,”

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