U.S. mulls sanctions on Pyongyang for rights

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U.S. mulls sanctions on Pyongyang for rights

The United States is looking for the first time at imposing sanctions on North Korean officials for violations of human rights, and the blacklist may include the regime’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Multiple U.S. and South Korean sources told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday that Washington will submit to Congress as early as this week a blacklist of 15 officials in the North Korean leadership and 10 agencies involved in infringement of human rights, including sending people to prison camps.

Contrary to speculation that the sanctions would focus on officials of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, tasked with generating the regime’s propaganda and controlling the people’s thinking, according to a source, “Kim Jong-un makes a surprise appearance on the list.”

The U.S. Department of State is set to submit a report detailing North Korean human rights violations to Congress this week, and a blacklist of people responsible for them to the U.S. Treasury Department. Individuals included on the sanctions list are expected to face a freezing of funds within the United States and a prohibition of entry into the country.

One key source said: “The submission of a human rights violation report that includes Kim Jong-un, and the announcement of sanctions on North Korea’s human rights issue - unlike sanctions for its nuclear tests or missile launches - permanently labels North Korea as ‘a country in violation of human rights’ and Kim Jong-un as ‘a criminal who perpetrated the human rights violations.’ Thus, this holds very significant meaning.”

The source continued, “This is the first time [the United States] is imposing unilateral sanctions for the North Korean human rights issue in itself. Including Kim Jong-un on the sanctions list will have explosive force.”

Another official pointed out, “Targeting North Korea’s leader in itself can cause a huge ripple effect in North Korea-U.S. relations and as a consequence in inter-Korean relations.”

North Korea has in the past responded sensitively to international condemnation of its atrocious human rights record, especially following a landmark report released in February 2014 by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in North Korea that concluded senior members of North Korea’s military regime, including Kim, had committed or overseen a broad range of crimes against humanity.

The report was the conclusion of the COI’s year-long investigation into systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea and advised the UN Security Council to bring the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The next month, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution endorsing the COI report and urging the Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC to enable prosecution of its leaders - including Kim - and consider imposing sanctions against those most responsible for the rights abuses. This led to the adoption of a stronger resolution on the North Korean human rights issue in the United Nations General Assembly later that year.

The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, or H.R. 757, signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 18, includes a section on the promotion of human rights. It requires a report by the State Department that identifies those involved with severe human rights abuse in North Korea, using the UN COI report as a basis.

Sec. 303 of the act goes on to the say that “the Secretary of State… shall make specific findings with respect to the responsibility of Kim Jong-un, and of each natural person who is a member of the National Defense Commission of North Korea, or the Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, for serious human rights abuses and censorship.”

The U.S. State Department last Thursday also released its “Trafficking in Persons Report 2016” in which it described that “forced labor is part of an established system of political repression” in North Korea. It added that there are “an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners in political prison camps in remote areas of the country.”

The State Department’s list of North Korean human rights abusers also is expected to include Kim Ki-nam, director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, and Jo Yon-jun, a first deputy director of the ruling Workers Party’s Organization and Guidance Department.

Kim has been referred to as Pyongyang’s Joseph Goebbels, referring to the Nazi Germany’s propaganda chief.

Jo controls human resources of state agencies and is responsible for commanding who is detained in prison camps and sent to forced labor.

Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong was also initially expected to be on the list but because of her vague role, it doesn’t seem like she will be.

BY KIM HYUN-KI, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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