US sanctions North Koreans over forced labour, other alleged abuses

North Koreans participate in a mass pro-government rally in Pyongyang on Aug 9, 2017.
North Koreans participate in a mass pro-government rally in Pyongyang on Aug 9, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States on Thursday (Oct 26) imposed sanctions on seven North Korean individuals and three entities over what it called serious human rights abuses, including forced labour and hunting down of asylum seekers.

"Today's sanctions target the North Korean military and regime officials engaged in flagrant abuses of human rights," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

"We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labour operations."

Among those targeted by the sanctions were the director and the deputy director of the Military Security Command, the first vice-minister of the Ministry of People's Security and the labour minister. The United States also sanctioned North Korea's consul-general in Shenyang, China, and a diplomat at North Korea's embassy in Vietnam.

"We are especially concerned with the North Korean military, which operates as secret police, punishing all forms of dissent," the statement said.

"Further, the military operates outside of North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens."

The Treasury statement charged that Ku Sung Sop, the consul-general in Shenyang, and Kim Min Chol, a diplomat at the embassy in Vietnam, had participated in the forced repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers.

It said the Ch'olhyo'n Overseas Construction Company, which was sanctioned along with the Military Security Command and the External Construction Bureau, had operated in Algeria and was reported to earn foreign currency for North Korea.

"Employees of Ch'olhyo'n are kept in slave-like conditions, including having salaries and passports withheld by (North Korean) security officials assigned as site supervisors, meagre food rations, poor living conditions, and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement," the Treasury statement said.

It said the External Construction Bureau had operated in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

The US administration has sought to restrict the income North Korea receives from its export of labour as part of efforts to choke off funds helping to finance the country's nuclear and missile programmes, which Pyongyang says are aimed at developing weapons capable of hitting the United States.

North Korea routinely denies widespread allegations of rights abuses.