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(LEAD) U.S. designates N. Korean defense minister, others for human rights violation

All News 02:13 December 11, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with additional information in paras 2-5; CHANGES headline, lead; RESTRUCTURES)
By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Friday designated North Korea's new Defense Minister Ri Yong-gil and a number of other entities in North Korea, China and Russia for human rights violations.

The U.S. Department of Treasury also designated North Korea's Central Public Prosecutors Office.

Ri, currently serving as North Korea's defense minister, was designated for his role as the former head of minister of social security, which, the department said, uses the court system to "prosecute and punish persons for political wrongdoing in a legal process involving fundamentally unfair trials."

"These trials sometimes end in sentencing to the DPRK's notorious prison camps, run by the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Social Security," it added, also noting the death of Otto Warmbier, an American university student who died in 2017 after returning home following a yearlong detention in North Korea.

"The treatment and eventual death of Otto Warmbier, who would have turned 27 years old this year, were reprehensible. The DPRK must continue to be held to account for its abysmal human rights record," the department said.

The department also designated a number of individuals and organizations in China and Russia for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit U.N. member states from employing or hosting North Korean workers.

"DPRK nationals often work in other countries, including for the purpose of generating foreign currency earnings that the DPRK can use to support its unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs," it said in a press release, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"UN Security Council resolution 2397, adopted on December 22, 2017, requires UN Member States to have repatriated DPRK nationals earning income in their jurisdictions by December 22, 2019, subject to limited exceptions," it added.

The department noted those illegally employing North Korean workers often contribute to the poor treatment of those workers that include "constant surveillance" and having a significant portion of their wages confiscated by the DPRK regime."

The latest designations were made on the international Human Rights Day.

Those newly designated include the European Institute of Justice, a Russian university based in Moscow, and its provost, Dmitry Yurevich Soin, who, according to the treasury department, "sponsored hundreds of student visas for DPRK construction workers in Russia."

"Some of these workers were affiliated with a DPRK WMD entity, and the revenue they generated from their labor could have been used to support DPRK WMD programs," it said.

The department also designated SEK Studio, a North Korean animation studio with workers in North Korea and China.

"SEK Studio has utilized an assortment of front companies to evade sanctions targeting the Government of the DPRK and to deceive international financial institutions," it said.

Lu Hezheng, a senior employee and former shareholder of Nings Cartoon Studio in China, worked with representatives of SEK Studio to facilitate wire transfers through Nings Cartoon Studio and other front companies in China, according to the department.

The department designated Lu and a range of companies affiliated with him, including Nings Cartoon Studio and Shanghai Hongman Cartoon and Animation Design Studio.


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