Subscribe to FDD

Treasury Targets North Korea’s Human Rights Abusers

Treasury Targets North Korea’s Human Rights Abusers

Anthony Ruggiero
12th January 2017 - FDD Policy Brief

The U.S. Department of the Treasury yesterday designated seven North Korean individuals and blocked two entities of the regime in response to North Korea’s human rights abuses and censorship activities. The State Department complemented the action with its Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea.

Human rights abuses in North Korea is a longstanding problem that has in recent years received increased attention. In 2014, for example, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stated, “A wide array of crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State,’ have been committed and continue to take place in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The commission called for “urgent action by the international community to address the human rights situation in the country, including referral to the International Criminal Court [ICC].” The United Nations Security Council has since met three times to discuss North Korea’s violations of human rights, but it is widely believed that China has blocked any attempted referrals to the International Criminal Court.

Treasury sanctions against North Korean human rights abusers seem to be getting increasingly personal. The prior round in July 2016 included North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, the first time the United States had sanctioned a North Korean leader. The designation clearly got Kim’s attention, as he called it a “hideous crime” in the North Korean media. This latest round of designations includes Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, identified by the Treasury Department as a vice director in the party’s agency responsible for newspaper and broadcast censorship. Kim Yo Jong has been identified as one of Kim’s closest aides, who “manages his public events, itineraries and logistical needs, among other tasks.”

It is important that the United States continues to target North Korea’s human rights violators. But it is not clear why this latest tranche of sanctions was not included in July when Kim Jong Un was designated. It is further unclear why the Obama administration refuses to target human rights abusers through the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016. This would ensure these sanctions cannot be suspended or removed without specified North Korean action.

The incoming Trump administration should continue to hold North Korea and its leaders accountable for its human rights abuses. It should also get tough on China, which continues to shelter Pyongyang at the United Nations and the ICC. Additional areas for emphasis should include: stopping North Korea’s export of forced labor for profit, resolving outstanding cases of North Korean abductions, disseminating alternative information in North Korea, and ending the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees.

There are ample ways to weaken the repressive regime in North Korea. And if new tools are needed, the incoming administration will find that Capitol Hill will be eager to develop them.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Anthony was a foreign policy fellow in the Office of Senator Marco Rubio and an official at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and U.S. Department of State.


human-rights, north-korea, united-nations