Our Voices

House Passes North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act

(January 13, 2016 | Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights praised the House of Representatives for passing the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016 with overwhelming bipartisan support, 418 – 2. Among other provisions, the bill will further limit North Korea’s access to the international financial system, target individuals involved in cyber-attacks against the United States, and seek to hold accountable North Korean officials responsible for human rights abuses. The bill strikes the right balance between the humanitarian concerns for everyday North Koreans by exempting food and medicine from the narrowly targeted sanctions and by providing humanitarian and national interest waivers.

“The human rights atrocities taking place in North Korea are some of the very worst in the world. They demand our strong collective response to ensure that the abuses end and those officials responsible are brought to justice,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Yesterday’s strong bi-partisan action by the House of Representatives brings us one step closer to making that imperative a reality.”

Nearly two years ago, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry reported that ongoing crimes against humanity in North Korea have no “parallel in the contemporary world.” These crimes include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

In a report published in November 2014, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights outlined a human rights up-front approach to international and United States policy towards North Korea. The report called for the U.S. and its allies to take a number of concrete steps in order to make progress on the human rights situation in North Korea, including passing strong bilateral sanctions that would target those responsible for human rights abuses.

In addition to financial sanctions, the bill passed by the House yesterday requires the Secretary of State to individually identify severe human rights abusers, and produce a report on the political prison camps in North Korea, and requires the President to investigate the feasibility of increasing the access of the people of North Korea to unmonitored communication technology.

“The bill passed yesterday provides concrete measures that will make a difference on the ground for those suffering under the North Korean regime,” said David McKean, Asia Program Officer at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Now it’s up to the Senate to pass similar legislation so these measures can become law and begin to take effect.”