The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned three high ranking North Korean officials on Monday over the country’s ongoing human rights abuses, the department announced in a press release.
The designations coincide with Human Rights Day and target officials in North Korea’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD).
The three individuals include Director of the OGD Choe Ryong Hae, the Minister of State Security Jong Kyong Thaek, and Director of the PAD Pak Kwang Ho.
“Treasury is sanctioning senior North Korean officials who direct departments that perpetrate the regime’s brutal state-sponsored censorship activities, human rights violations and abuses, and other abuses in order to suppress and control the population,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin was quoted as saying in the press release.
“These sanctions demonstrate the United States’ ongoing support for freedom of expression, and opposition to endemic censorship and human rights abuses,” he added.
All three entities are already designated at the unilateral level by the United States, while the PAD and OGD are also sanctioned by the UN Security Council (UNSC).
While the MSS is not designated at the UNSC level, two of its officials are after having been identified as being stationed in Syria to support one of North Korea’s primary arms dealers the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID).
Of the three, Choe is the most publicly prominent figure in the North Korean Government and has been involved in 36 public appearances involving North Korean leader Kim Jong Un between January and the end of November this year, according to the NK Pro Leadership Tracker.
This includes accompanying the leader on high-level diplomatic trips overseas to China and Singapore.
Choe is also one of four individuals – including Kim – in the Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) top institution, the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee. He is widely seen as one of the most powerful officials in the country.
In its press release on Monday, the Treasury also mentioned Otto Warmbier, a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea in January 2016 and who subsequently died in June of 2017 shortly after being released following over 17 months in DPRK custody.
“Today’s actions shine a spotlight on North Korea’s reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea’s brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who passed away 18 months ago,” the press release read.
“Otto would have turned 24 years old on December 12, and his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier and the rest of his family continue to mourn for him,” it added.
The sanctions are likely to elicit a highly critical response from the DPRK, which recently lashed out at the U.S. over criticisms of its human rights record.
On November 29 U.S. President Donald Trump reapplied a Presidential Determination that prevents the U.S. from providing nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related assistance to North Korea and which will last for the 2019 financial year over the DPRK’s human trafficking record.
In response, North Korea’s Uriminzokkiri outlet then denounced the decision as a “heinous hostile act.”
The decision to sanction the three officials is pursuant to Executive Order 13687, which targets, among others, officials of the Government of North Korea and the WPK.
Featured Image: Treasury Department – 2012-09-20 by Tim Evanson on 2012-09-20 18:17:23
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