North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets Salvador Antonio Valdes Mesa, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) and vice-president of the Council of State of Cuba, and his party on a visit, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) July 1, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)
The United States placed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on its sanctions blacklist Wednesday, saying he is directly responsible for a long list of extreme human rights abuses in his country.
Placing Kim on its blacklist for the first time, the US said, is an acknowledgment that North Korea is "among the world's most repressive countries."
Kim and 10 other top officials named in the sanctions were behind widespread, serious abuses including killings and torture of political prisoners in the country's system of political prison camps, US officials said.
"Under Kim Jong-Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, and torture," said Adam Szubin, Acting Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
Treasury said that Kim, North Korea's "Supreme Leader," was responsible for abuses in his roles as head of the country's Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People's Security.
According to officials in Washington, North Korea's Ministry of State Security holds 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners in political prison camps where torture, execution, sexual assault, starvation, and slave labor are common.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of People's Security overseen by Kim runs a network of police stations, detention centers and labor camps where suspects under interrogation "are systematically degraded, intimidated, and tortured," the United States said.
Authorities in Washington for the first time identified other top officials directly involved in rights abuses, including Choe Pu Il, the Minister of People's Security, Ri Song Chol, a senior official in the Ministry of People's Security, and Kang Song Nam, a Bureau Director with the Ministry of State Security.
A senior US official said on background that naming the specific officials involved will help strip the anonymity under which they carry out systematic abuses.
The designation of Kim and others for sanctions came as the State Department released a new report which documents the abuses throughout the North Korean security apparatus and political prison camp system.
The US official said the report makes clear that Kim is ultimately responsible for much of the abuses.
US officials said they do not expect immediate consequences from the designations, which freeze the assets of those named on US territory and forbid Americans from doing business with them.
However, they said there is evidence in North Korea that an increasing number of people are aware of the extent of abuses.
They said identifying the abuses, and those responsible, could encourage North Koreans hoping for a change in the country's political leadership.