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(Yonhap Interview) U.S. hits N. Korea's overseas labor to rein in nuclear threat

2017/10/27 14:31

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By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's human rights abusers are the latest target in the United States' campaign to stop the regime's nuclear weapons development, a State Department official said Thursday.

Under President Donald Trump, Washington has intensified sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang, which is bent on building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the continental U.S.

Despite Trump's rhetoric of military action, the latest move out of Washington is Thursday's release of a biannual report identifying seven North Korean officials and three entities for their serious human rights violations, especially in the exploitation of overseas labor.

By some estimates, North Korea earns about US$200 million annually from extorting the salaries of its workers abroad.

In conjunction with the report, the Department of the Treasury blocked the 10 individuals and entities from accessing the U.S. financial system.

"We think that cutting off this source of revenue to the regime is very much in keeping and reinforces the work we're doing to constrain North Korea's ability to develop and deploy nuclear weapons," said Scott Busby, deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, in a phone interview with Yonhap.

Official portrait of U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Scott Busby. (Yonhap) Official portrait of U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Scott Busby. (Yonhap)

In September, the U.N. Security Council placed restrictions on the use of North Korean laborers overseas to undercut the regime's financing of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

"In keeping with what the Security Council has done on this issue, we too want to call out those individuals or entities involved in this practice and punish them for their involvement in this practice," Busby said.

Thousands of North Koreans are sent abroad every year to work in slavelike conditions as government security officials monitor their activities and forcibly repatriate them when they seek asylum.

Pyongyang denies the existence of human rights violations in the country and denounces the accusations as a U.S.-led campaign to topple the regime. But Washington has said it seeks a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, not a regime change.

"Our goal with this report is to send a signal to all North Korean government officials, particularly mid-level officials, that we can and will expose the human rights abuses or censorship they engage in and that they will suffer consequences for such actions," the human rights veteran said. "It's very much in keeping with the sort of work we do day in, day out around the globe. And that day in, day out work is not about regime change. It's rather about identifying ways in which governments are falling short of universal human rights standards."

   There is skepticism that sanctions can curb the North's nuclear ambitions. But Busby cited recent North Korean defectors as saying they experienced less severe treatment under the regime.

"They believe (it) is a consequence, or related to ... the international community's pressure, including the pressure that this sanctions program puts on the regime," he said.

Beyond sanctions, the U.S. also continues to work with its allies to increase the flow of information into, out of and within North Korea.

"We continue to amplify survivors' voices and to strengthen the international coalition speaking out against these types of abuses," Busby said.