US Sanctions North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un for Human Rights Abuses

PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un listens during the party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 9, 2016.PlayWong Maye-E/AP Photo
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For the first time, the United States has sanctioned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses.

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury added the young ruler, along with 10 other North Korean individuals and five entities, to the U.S. sanctions list today.

"Human rights abuses in the DPRK are among the worst in the world," U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby said in a statement today. "The government continues to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor and torture. Many of these abuses are committed in the political prison camps, where an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals are detained, including children and family members of the accused."

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SLIDESHOW: Photos: Kim Jong Un's reign in North Korea

The department added that this is part of "the most comprehensive U.S. government effort to date" to identify and sanction North Korea's leaders responsible for the widespread abuses -- which they hope will "send a signal to all government officials who might be responsible for human rights abuses."

Kim is among 23 total North Korean individuals and entities cited in a report released by the U.S. Department of State today for their role in serious human rights violations, hunting down defectors or censorship in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. U.S. officials gathered the names with the cooperation of other governments, international organizations and civil society groups.

"We have made the judgment that he is, rather plainly, ultimately responsible for the actions of his regime, including its repressive policies towards its own people. But I would also encourage you to give some attention to other names on this list," a senior administration official in the State Department said.

The other names include Choe Pu-il, North Korea's minister of public security who oversees the operation of the political prisoner and forced labor camps, and Cho Yon-jun, the vice director of North Korea's organization and guidance department who is responsible for the executions of defectors, according to the report.

"This will be an ongoing process," the senior administration official said. "We certainly don’t consider this a comprehensive list of those officials in the North Korean system who are responsible for these kinds of abuses, so we intend to update the list from time to time as new information comes in."

U.S. officials hope the report and the sanctions will have an impact on the North Korean regime.

"It sends a message to people within the North Korean regime, particularly at those lower to mid levels, that if you become involved in abuses like running concentration camps or hunting down defectors, we will know who you are and you will end up on a blacklist that leaves you at a significant disadvantage in the future," the senior administration official said. "We have no illusions that this is going to bring some sort of dramatic change in and of itself to North Korea, but simply lifting the anonymity of these functionaries may make them think twice from time to time when they consider a particular act of cruelty or repression."

The sanctions, which target property and other assets under U.S. jurisdiction, follow a 2014 report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, which details a harrowing system of executions without any legal process, forced labor camps and torture under Kim's rule.

The U.S. action comes at a time when the North Korean government is pushing ahead with its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, despite the threat of international sanctions. Just days after the reclusive country test-launched two medium-range ballistic missiles last month, the top North Korean official for U.S. relations told The Associated Press that Washington can expect more nuclear tests and missile launches as long as it tries to force his government's collapse through a policy of pressure and punishment.

"It's the United States that caused this issue," Han Song Ryol, the director-general of the department of U.S. affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, told the AP in his first interview with an American news organization since assuming the post three years ago. "They have to stop their military threats, sanctions and economic pressure. Without doing so, it's like they are telling us to reconcile while they are putting a gun to our forehead."

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