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US Official Warns North Korean Leader Over Human Rights Abuses

FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addresses the congress in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 6, 2016.

The latest U.S. sanctions on North Korea are aimed at sending a warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other officials over human rights abuses, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

The United States imposed sanctions on Kim and 10 other top officials Wednesday for grossly violating human rights. Eight North Korean entities were also blacklisted. This marks the first time the North Korean leader has been personally sanctioned, and the first time any North Korean officials have been sanctioned in connection with human rights abuses. The penalties freeze the assets of the sanctioned individuals and entities and bar them from financial transactions with U.S. citizens.

“One of the things we want to do is to tell people inside North Korea that we know what is happening. The person who is most responsible, of course, is the leader of the country, Kim Jong Un,” Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said in an interview with the VOA Korean Service.

Strong warning

Malinowski said it is important for the United States to raise North Korean human rights as the effort is likely to contribute to peace and stability in the region.

“Democratic countries that respect human rights don’t go to war against each other. We hope that progress in advancing the human rights of North Korean people advances our shared goals in peace and stability,” the official said.

North Korea on Thursday threatened to respond to the sanctions with its toughest action, calling the U.S. move a “declaration of war.”

VOA’s Korean Service's William Kim interviews U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski.
VOA’s Korean Service's William Kim interviews U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski.

Malinowski called on Pyongyang to stop threatening rhetoric, dismissing it as a tactic to escalate tensions.

“The time for a war talk in the Korean peninsula is long past. What we want is a peaceful solution to this problem that gives the people of North Korea their rights and their voice, because that’s what they deserve,” he said.

Malinowski said Washington has not given up diplomatic efforts on Pyongyang although there has been little progress on the diplomatic front in recent years.

“I think we have tried very hard to resolve problems with North Korea through dialogue, through diplomacy, and we’re not going to stop trying because we think that’s the best way to build peace,” he said.

Continued violations

The U.S. sanctions coincide with a move by the U.S. State Department to release a report on the human rights situation in North Korea. The State Department submitted the report to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 enacted in February. The law requires the secretary of state to provide a report to Congress that identifies each person the secretary determines to be responsible for serious human rights abuses or censorship in the North.

“The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, forced labor, and torture,” the report said.

It is estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 people are held in political prison camps in the North, according to the report.

Cho Eun Jung contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with VOA Korean Service.