For the first time, the United States has put North Korea's leader on the U.S. sanctions list for human rights abuses.
Kim Jong Un is among nearly two-dozen entities and individuals placed on Washington's blacklist for their role in serious human rights violations, hunting down defectors or censorship in North Korea.
"We have identified 23 individuals and entities in our report, one of those individuals is Kim Jong Un, we have made the judgment that he is rather plainly, ultimately responsible for the actions of his regime including its repressive policies toward his own people," a senior U.S. official announced Wednesday.
Acting Under Secretary of Treasury Adam Szubin said, "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."
South Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement Thursday saying it "highly praises and welcomes" the sanction, in hopes "it will lead the world to better understand the systemic and extensive violations" taking place under Kim Jong Un's regime.
Under the so-called Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, property or interests of those designated within the U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen. In addition, transactions by U.S. persons involving the designated persons are generally prohibited.
"This will make it difficult for transactions or funds to be held or moved anywhere around the world on behalf of these individuals and entities, so it does call out the bad behavior," said another U.S. senior official, adding that Wednesday's designation will make it risky for any financial institution around the globe to hold or transfer assets on behalf of those individuals and entities through its banks.
Abuses among world’s worst
The State Department said human rights abuses in North Korea are among the worst in the world. Many of these abuses are committed in political prison camps, where an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals are detained, including children and family members of the accused.
Other North Korean officials designated in the blacklist include Choe Pu Il, who is the Minister of People's Security; Ri Song Chol, who is a Counselor in the Ministry of People's Security; as well as Kang Song Nam, a Bureau Director with the Ministry of State Security.
U.S. officials said Wednesday's actions will strengthen and expand sanctions on North Korea. They are consistent with the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in February.