US lawmakers seek tighter N.Korea sanctions over rights

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 27 2014 08:46 AM | Updated as of Mar 27 2014 04:47 PM

WASHINGTON - A senior US lawmaker vowed Wednesday to seek stiffer sanctions against North Korea due to human rights concerns after a stinging UN report likened the regime's abuses to the Holocaust.

Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told a hearing that he would seek to enact a bill that would broaden already sweeping sanctions by punishing foreign governments that assist Kim Jong-Un's regime.

The bill, which enjoys more than 130 co-sponsors in the 435-member House of Representatives, "targets the regime where it is most vulnerable -- in the pocketbook," Royce said.

"It will prevent Kim Jong-Un from accessing, having the ability to use, that hard currency that he needs in order to pay his generals," Royce said. "It will go a long way towards bankrupting the regime."

North Korea is already the most sanctioned nation in the world, with the UN Security Council restricting vast sectors of the impoverished state's economy in punishment over its defiant nuclear and missile tests.

The bill spells out penalties in the United States for foreign governments or financial institutions that work with North Korea on trade, cash transactions or bribes.

The bill could affect banks in China, which has shown growing impatience with its ally but has refused actions that would destabilize North Korea such as referring its leaders to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

A report by the Congressional Research Service, which provides analysis to lawmakers, said that the bill could put the United States in conflict with its ally South Korea if President Park Geun-Hye tried to expand the Kaesong industrial zone, a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation that Pyongyang shut down last year.

A UN Commission of Inquiry last month documented mass executions, forced labor and other abuses by North Korea that it said were so pervasive that they sparked comparisons to Nazi Germany.

At the US House hearing on the report, a North Korean refugee testified how her parents were severely beaten, with her father dying, after they illegally crossed into China to seek food during the famine of the 1990s.

The refugee, Grace Minhee Jo, said that she was placed in an orphanage where up to 20 children stayed in each room. She said she was forced to work each day from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm, eating only barley and radish soup and not receiving any rice or education.

"I would like to please ask the US and UN to rescue the suffering North Korean people," she said. "Please be their voice and be advocates of their human rights."

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