The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on three North Korea officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing “ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.
The sanctions “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,” the department said in a statement. Warmbier was an American student who died in June 2017 after 17 months of detention in North Korea, which contributed to already tense exchanges between Pyongyang and Washington, primarily over North Korea’s nuclear development program.
The sanctions freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits them from engaging in any transactions with anyone in the United States.
Ryong Hae Choe, an aide close to Kim who, according to the U.S. Treasury, heads the Workers’ Party of Korea Organization and Guidance Department, was sanctioned, as were State Security Minister Kyong Thaek Jong and the director of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kwang Ho Pak.
The economy and people of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has suffered through decades of international sanctions.
The health system of DPRK has been one of the most impacted sectors. International aid organizations and aid workers who are active in DPRK have been quite straightforward and linked the collapse of the vital public services to the international sanctions. Surgery anesthetics, common antibiotics, obstetric medicines, spare parts of medical devices and laboratory supplies cannot be imported or are significantly delayed to enter the country if some of their parts or substances are listed as prohibited goods.
Even a product which is almost entirely made in a third country but it has a component or a spare part made by a US based company, cannot be imported to North Korea without the permit of the US authorities. Those restrictions apply to everything, from the import of much needed technology to modernize public services, to spare parts of agricultural machinery, fertilizers and pesticides.
Even the donation of soccer balls is considered a breach of the international sanctions because the 1874 resolution of the UNSC includes all sports goods in its list of luxury items. Accordingly, in the autumn of 2013 the cargo of an American Charity was confiscated; it contained 1000 soccer balls to be donated to two North Korean orphanages.
The years of 2013 and 2014 were probably the worst for aid organizations working in DPRK. The sanctions against the Bank of Foreign Commerce of North Korea had frozen all financial transactions and the aid groups were unable to pay salaries to their staff, rent and utilities bills. Even the World Food Program (WFP) had to suspend production in five out of its seven factories producing fortified biscuits for malnourished children. More than half a million children were dependent on the WFP ratio for their daily nutritional needs.
But as far as the country’s elite, even with the sanctions they have never really suffered. Chanel goods, Italian wines, foreign cigarettes, Swiss watches were still largely available in Pyongyang and the major cities and the nuclear program continued to develop.
The question is: Is there any justification for the international sanctions besides their political significance?
[Read full CounterPunch article by Fragkiska Megaloudi]