Historic U.S. sanctions target Kim Jong Un

For the first time, the American government has sanctioned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, designating him as a human rights violator. In doing so, the U.S. has committed to recognizing and addressing North Korea’s human rights problem. 

A report released on July 6 by the State Department “identified North Korean officials and entities responsible for or associated with serious human rights abuses or censorship.” In parallel with the report, the Department of the Treasury has added “North Korean persons to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list,” under the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016.

The sanctions cover Kim Jong Un and ten other officials, extending across five North Korean government agencies. 

“These sanctions are independent American measures, but by labeling [specific parties] they have international repercussions because they specify that Kim Jong Un is a human rights violator. America has consistently pressured North Korea over its nuclear development, but there were gaps in this approach. Now America is bringing the human rights problem into the limelight, revealing a change in the way it pressures North Korea,” Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Institute director Jeon Hyeon Jun told Daily NK today by telephone.

Go Myeong Hyeon, a researcher at the Asan Institute, added that until now, North Korea’s nuclear development has been a constant impediment to negotiations. “However, now that the American administration is adding human rights on top of denuclearization as a precondition for negotiations, it has just become harder to resume talks,” he asserted.

“If America had the will to re-enter negotiations with Kim Jong Un, it would not have included Kim Jong Un as a sanctions target. From this point of view, we can perceive this recent measure as further evidence that America is steadfastly committed to denuclearization.”

Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) Chief Yun Yeo Sang pointed out that when it comes to North Korean human rights violations, the international community’s most important task is to investigate and determine the responsible parties. “Issuing criminal penalties to the guilty is the final stage,” he said, “so bearing that in mind, the fact that America has specifically named Kim Jong Un as a human rights abuser is significant in this respect.” 

“Because of these sanctions, the international community will have the opportunity to discuss the determination of responsibility for the human rights abuses. America has shown the international community that it is refusing to ignore North Korea’s human rights violations,” he added.

Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU)’s Kim Su Am built on that point, noting that while this round of legislation is an independent American effort, it holds a great deal of meaning for the international context in terms of establishing a foothold and identifying specific responsible parties. “In particular, the fact that Kim Jong Un was named could help form the basis for a case in the International Criminal Court (ICC),” he said.

“These sanctions will come as a harsher blow compared to other sanctions and asset freezes that America has carried out in the past. Designating Kim Jong Un as a human rights abuser will psychologically pressure the Kim regime.”   
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