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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 13)

All Headlines 07:13 December 13, 2018

Rights abuses
Time to do more to improve situation in North Korea

The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on three ranking North Korean officials for human rights abuses and censorship. This punitive action is the direct result of the Kim Jong-un regime's brutal rule and blatant disregard of the basic rights of North Koreans. Under any circumstances, such abuses should not be tolerated or justified.

The three officials include Choe Ryong-hae, the North's de facto No. 2 figure and close aide to Kim. He is vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission and director of the Organization and Guidance Department of the ruling Workers' Party. The two others are State Security Minister Jong Kyong-thaek and Pak Kwang-ho, director of the party's Propaganda and Agitation Department.

Of course, the U.S. sanctions are more symbolic than effective because they have few means to get Pyongyang to redress its bad track record on rights violations. They freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and make it illegal for any U.S. entity to conduct financial transactions with them.

The punitive action, which was announced Monday, followed the U.S. State Department's release of a biannual report on the human rights situation in the isolated North. The department had delayed the disclosure of the report in an apparent bid to not negatively affect the denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea following the first summit between the two countries' leaders held in Singapore in June.

The report is drawing attention as it came when the talks are in a prolonged stalemate. Some pundits speculate that the report and the new sanctions against the North Korean officials could be intended to put more pressure on the Kim regime to take substantial action to implement its commitment to denuclearization.

It is difficult to confirm such speculation. Yet it is also hard to deny any links between the sanctions imposition and the deadlocked negotiations to achieve the goal of ending the North's nuclear and missile development programs. Whatever the motivations, it is appropriate, though somewhat belated, for the U.S. to raise the North Korean human rights issue. It would be nonsense if the U.S. and the international community kept mum on the pains and sufferings of North Koreans.

We have to heed the remarks made by State Department spokesman Robert Palladino. He said in a statement, "Human rights abuses in North Korea remain among the worst in the world and include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence."

The department has also maintained its designation of North Korea as a violator of religious freedom for the 18th consecutive year. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear the U.S. will not stand by as spectators in the face of oppression of such freedom.

It is time to get tougher with North Korea for its sheer violations of human rights. Basic human rights cannot and should not be compromised for any political or diplomatic considerations such as the nuclear talks. The liberal Moon Jae-in administration should have the courage to talk about the North's abuses, despite its efforts for inter-Korean detente.
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