Biden imposes first sanctions on North over human rights

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Biden imposes first sanctions on North over human rights

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to media after delivering closing remarks to the virtual Summit for Democracy at the White House in Washington Friday. The U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions on North Korean, Chinese and Russian individuals and entities for human rights violations on the same day. [AP/YONHAP]

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to media after delivering closing remarks to the virtual Summit for Democracy at the White House in Washington Friday. The U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions on North Korean, Chinese and Russian individuals and entities for human rights violations on the same day. [AP/YONHAP]

The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Pyongyang’s new Defense Minister Ri Yong-gil, animation studios and other people and entities in North Korea, China and Russia for human rights violations Friday.  
 
The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 15 individuals and 10 entities in several countries around the globe including Myanmar and Bangladesh, issuing financial sanctions and visa bans “for their connection to human rights abuse and repression."
 
This marked the first new sanctions on North Korea over rights issues since the launch of the Joe Biden administration and coincided with International Human Rights Day.
 
The latest designations highlighted the rights abuses of law enforcement agencies in North Korea and foreign companies and institutions that hired North Korean workers, including a Russian university.  
 
The Treasury blacklisted North Korea's Central Public Prosecutors Office for conducting unfair trials and using prison camps. Ri Yong-gil, the former North Korean minister of social security, was recently appointed as minister of the People’s Armed Forces, a UN- and U.S.-designated entity.
 
North Korean individuals, according to OFAC, are “often subjected to forced labor, constant surveillance, and severe restrictions on their exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”  
 
It added that the North Korean prosecutors office and court system “reportedly are used to prosecute and punish persons for political wrongdoing in a legal process involving fundamentally unfair trials.”
 
The Treasury pointed to foreigners who have been victims of the North’s “fundamentally unfair justice system” such as American university student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested in 2016 and died less than a week after his release in 2017.  
 
North Koreans often work in other countries “for the purpose of generating foreign currency earnings that the DPRK can use to support its unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs,” added the OFAC.
 
DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
 
The Treasury’s list included the European Institute Justo, a Russian university based in Moscow, and its provost, Dmitry Yurevich Soin, accused of sponsoring “hundreds of student visas for DPRK construction workers in Russia.” Some of these workers were affiliated with entities linked to North Korea’s WMD program, according to OFAC, and the revenue they earned could be siphoned back home to support its nuclear weapons development.  
 
SEK Studio, a Pyongyang-based state-run animation studio with workers in North Korea and China, was also designated for allegedly having “utilized an assortment of front companies to evade sanctions targeting the [North Korean government] and to deceive international financial institutions.”
 
Chinese animation companies Nings Cartoon Studio based in Chongqing and Moxing Cartoon in Shanghai were designated for direct or indirect involvement with SEK Studio. Lu Hezheng, a senior employee at Nings Cartoon Studio and the sole shareholder Shanghai Hongman Cartoon and Animation Design Studio, was also blacklisted.  
 
The Treasury said that foreign companies involved in the employment of North Korean labor “contribute to the poor treatment workers endure, which can include being subjected to constant surveillance, forced to work long hours, and having a significant portion of their wages confiscated by the regime.”
 
It noted that in the past several years, there has been an increase in the “abuse” of student and tourist visas, to enable North Koreans to enter and work in countries such as China and Russia. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2375 in 2017, countries were prohibited from issuing new work permits to North Korean overseas workers, aimed at reducing North Korea’s source of foreign revenue.  
 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on the latest Treasury sanctions, “These designations underscore our support for human rights and commitment to promoting accountability for human rights abusers and violators the world over.”
 
The latest actions are a part of coordinated efforts with Canada and Britain and also came on the heels of Biden’s Summit for Democracy held Thursday and Friday.  
 
U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a statement, “Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”
 
The sanctions could deal another blow on South Korea’s efforts to revive diplomacy between the North and the United States, including a proposal for a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War to help move along denuclearization talks.  
 
Pyongyang has especially prickled over attacks on its human rights situation.  
 
North Korea has called for the United States to withdraw its "double standards" and "hostile policy" toward it, in reference to sanctions and joint military drills with the South as a condition for a return to negotiations. The Biden administration in its latest sanctions targeted the human rights situation, rather than the nuclear issue, signaling North Korea will no longer be an exception to its fight for accountability for human rights.  
 
 
 

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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