The US imposed sanctions Wednesday on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and 10 other top officials for human rights abuses in an escalation of Washington’s effort to isolate the authoritarian government.
Although North Korea is already sanctioned to the hilt because of its nuclear weapons program, it is the first time that Kim has been personally sanctioned, and the first time that any North Korean officials have been blacklisted in connection with rights abuses, such as running the nation’s notorious gulag and running down defectors.
“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,” Adam Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
Szubin said the sanctions demonstrate the United States’ “determination to see them stopped.”
The Obama administration, with some prodding from Congress, which passed hard-hitting sanctions legislation in February, has cranked up economic restrictions on Pyongyang since it conducted its latest nuclear test in January.
Wednesday’s action coincides with the release of a State Department report, mandated by Congress, on human rights abuses in North Korea. Administration officials said it was intended to name and shame responsible officials in North Korea’s opaque government, and send a message to lower and mid-ranking officials to think twice before engaging in acts of cruelty and oppression.
“It really for the first time puts them out in the public domain in a way that they haven’t been necessarily before,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said the sanctions “represent the start of what will be an ongoing process to identify and name persons responsible for serious human rights abuses.”
“These efforts send a clear message, not just to the senior leaders, but also prison camp managers and guards, censors, secret police, interrogators and persecutors of defectors–the world is documenting your abuses, and they will not be forgotten,” Power said in a statement.