(3rd LD) US imposes sanctions on N.K. leader's sister over human rights violations
(ATTN: CHANGES dateline; ADDS Seoul's response in paras 13-14)
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- The United States imposed sanctions on the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday for her links to human rights violations in the communist nation.
Kim Yo-jong, the leader's younger sister and vice director of the Workers Party's Propaganda and Agitation Department, was among seven North Korean officials and two agencies that the State Department blacklisted for their roles in the regime's human rights violations.
Kim Yo-jong (R), sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C)
It was the second time the U.S. has imposed human rights sanctions on the North after blacklisting leader Kim Jong-un, 10 other top officials and five state agencies in July, which marked the first-ever sanctions ever imposed on the North's leader.
The sanctions underscore Washington's determination to keep pressure on Pyongyang, which has aggressively been pursuing nuclear weapons and its delivery systems at the expense of the well-being of the country's 24 million hunger-stricken population.
The six other newly blacklisted North Korean officials are Minister of State Security Kim Won-hong; senior Workers' Party officials Choe Hwi, Min Byong-chol and Jo Yong-won; provincial security official Kim Il-nam; and military official Kang Pil-hun.
The two agencies are the State Planning Commission and the Ministry of Labor.
The officials and entities were added to the Treasury Department's List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons that calls for freezing assets of and banning American transactions with those blacklisted, though the measures are expected to be largely symbolic as North Korean officials have no assets in the U.S. and do not engage in transactions with Americans.
"The North Korean regime not only engages in severe human rights abuses, but it also implements rigid censorship policies and conceals its inhumane and oppressive behavior," the Treasury Department said in a statement. "Today's action exposes individuals supporting the North Korean regime and underscores the U.S. government's commitment to promoting accountability for serious human rights abuses and censorship in North Korea."
It said the Propaganda and Agitation Department, in which the leader's sister serves, is the North's "primary agency responsible for both newspaper and broadcast censorship."
The State Department said the North's human rights abuses remain "among the world in the world," saying the regime continues to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor, and torture.
Many of such abuses are committed in the political prison camps, where an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals are detained, the department said, adding that the systemic and oppressive nature of the North's censorship and information denial "remains omnipresent."
"We will continue to identify more individuals and entities in future reports as part of our on-going efforts to promote accountability for North Korean officials," the department said. "With these efforts, we are sending a signal to all DPRK government officials, particularly prison camp officials, interrogators, and border guards, that we can and will expose human rights abuses and censorship in the DPRK."
South Korea welcomed the latest U.S. sanctions, saying that it is viewed as a reaffirmation that human rights will be one of Washington's top priorities in its policy to the communist state.
"This is expected to raise global awareness of the severity of human rights conditions in the North, including distortion of the reality, censorship and forced labor within the country. Also it will contribute greatly to strengthening debates on the issue and encouraging the international community to take concrete actions," Seoul's foreign ministry said.
The North has bristled at any talk or criticism of its human rights record, denouncing it as a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.
Pyongyang is expected to react angrily to the latest sanctions.