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U.S. Imposes New Human Rights Sanctions On North Korea

The U.S. is imposing a new round of sanctions on North Korea — this time for human rights abuses. The sanctions target senior officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, and are part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. to isolate the government. This is the first time that Kim has been directly targeted with sanctions.

The Obama administration says human rights abuses in North Korea are among the worst in the world.

"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 J. Szubin, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, in charge of designating sanctions, named Kim for "having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the Workers' Party of Korea."

Five entities and 10 other individuals are also named in this latest round of sanctions. That includes officials involved with hunting down North Korean defectors, and running labor and political prison camps that hold as many as 120,000 people.

The sanctions are meant to financially cripple anyone on the list. OFAC says any property or other assets held within U.S. jurisdiction by those named on the list are frozen. Additionally, transactions by U.S. persons involving the designated persons are generally prohibited.

U.S. officials say there's been an effort to draw attention to the human rights abuses in North Korea for some time. It was helped along in 2014 by the release of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry report that highlighted the problem, particularly the system of labor camps. OFAC's announcement Wednesday coincides with the release of a State Department "Report on Serious Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea."

Still, there's debate over how effective sanctions are. The U.S. has been using them for years as a way to get North Korea to stop testing nuclear and missile technology and return to negotiations, with little luck.

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Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.

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