U.S. sanctions North Korean leader for first time over human rights abuses

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North Korean leader Kim Jon Un oversaw a successful ground test of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile at Sohae Space Station, North Korea's state-run KCNA reported in April.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday slapped sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and 10 other regime officials for their alleged complicity in human rights abuses against the North Korean people.

The move marked the first time Washington sanctioned Kim Jong Un personally. Administration officials said Kim was “ultimately responsible” for what they called “North Korea’s notorious abuses of human rights.”

“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,” Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin said in a statement announcing the new action.

The sanctions also extend to five North Korean state entities, including the Ministry of People’s Security, which the report says oversees labor camps and other detention facilities, where torture, execution, rape, starvation and forced labor takes place. Choe Pu Il, the minister of People’s Security, was also named to the list, along with several top officials in the agency.

U.S. officials briefing reporters on the new actions say they expected the sanctions to have “a worldwide ripple effect” making it harder for those on the list to do business with global financial institutions.

The officials also noted that this was the first time many of the North Korean officials involved have been publicly named, citing the secretive nature of the regime.

They also expressed the hope that the State Department report and sanctions will help convince mid- and lower-tier officials to refrain from committing human rights abuses out of fear of being blacklisted.

“Lifting the anonymity of these functionaries may make them think twice from time to time when considering a particular act of cruelty,” one senior administration official said.

North Korea is already subject to heavy U.S. sanctions for its past nuclear and missile activity. But Wednesday’s action marks the first time regime officials have been sanctioned for human rights abuses.

The new measures were taken in conjunction with the State Department’s issuance of a report entitled “Serious Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea,” which was mandated by the U.S. Congress under the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, passed earlier this year.

But the officials said the administration had been working even before the passage of the legislation to single out officials for possible sanctions in an effort to expose officials in the North Korean regime who are responsible for serious human rights abuses and censorship in North Korea.