WASHINGTON — The Trump administration imposed sanctions Thursday on 10 North Korean officials and organizations over human rights abuses and censorship, including a diplomat in China accused of forcing North Korean asylum seekers home.
It’s the latest step in a U.S. effort to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang, and seek “accountability” for officials of its authoritarian government.
The action was announced in conjunction with a new State Department report on dire human rights conditions in the isolated nation said to include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention and rape. The report, required by Congress, highlights abuses the U.S. says underwrite the North’s nuclear weapons program, including revenues it derives from overseas laborers. Thousands of North Koreans are sent abroad every year to work in “slave-like” conditions, it says.
Among the seven officials and three entities put on the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control blacklist Thursday were the commander of the Military Security Command, Jo Kyong-Chol; minister of labor, Jong Yong Su; and director of the external construction bureau, Kim Kang Jin. The bureau is the government agency that manages the construction firms that send laborers overseas. Also sanctioned was Chol Hyun Construction, a North Korean company that exports workers, primarily to Gulf states and Africa.
“We aim to send a signal to all DPRK government officials, particularly prison camp managers and mid-level officials, that we can and we will expose human rights abuses and censorship in the DPRK and that these individuals will suffer consequences for such actions,” said Scott Busby, a senior official in the department’s human rights bureau. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Those designated are blocked from holding any U.S. assets, and people in the U.S. are prohibited from having dealings with them. Busby could not confirm whether any of the designees have significant U.S. assets.
One of the officials targeted was Ku Sung Sub, described as North Korean consul general in Shenyang, China. Busby said Ku had been responsible for the return of asylum seekers to North Korea and his case has been raised with China. He wouldn’t comment on the prospects of Beijing taking action.
The U.S. has long been critical of China’s treatment of asylum seekers who have slipped across the heavily patrolled North Korean border. In 2014, a United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that China was enabling North Korea to commit crimes against humanity by forcibly returning asylum seekers to conditions of danger.
This story has been corrected to say that seven officials and three organizations were designated, not 10 officials.