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North rebukes Washington over human rights effort

Dec 14,2018
A North Korean propaganda media outlet fired back at the United States Thursday for its recent pressure on human rights issues, especially human trafficking.

The state-run Uriminzokkiri website accused the United States of trying to “condemn our country as a human trafficking country,” calling it an attempt to “make a scratch on our image” and “create an atmosphere for further sanctions pressure.”

The report specifically pointed to the U.S. State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2018,” which relisted North Korea as a Tier 3 offender, the worst classification. It called out Pyongyang for “state-sponsored human trafficking through its use of forced labor in prison camps,” under systematic political repression.

In a presidential directive issued on Nov. 29, U.S. President Donald Trump told U.S. representatives to multilateral development banks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to vote against providing any loans or funds to 18 countries, including North Korea, until they “comply with the minimum standards or make significant efforts” to comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Trump also declared that the United States will not provide non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance to North Korea or allow funding for North Korean officials’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs.

Uriminzokkiri went on to call this “an unbearable blasphemy against our people, and an intentional political provocation.”

However, Washington brushed off Pyongyang’s accusations that it that its moves were political provocations.

A high-level U.S. State Department official was quoted by the Voice of America Thursday as saying that the presidential restrictions and waivers “for certain types of assistance” on countries ranked in Tier 3 of the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report “reflects the United States’ firm commitment to combating human trafficking.”

The official added, “The United States will not shy away from holding accountable those states that fail to make significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for combating human trafficking.”

Washington this week also slapped sanctions on three high-ranking North Korean officials including Choe Ryong-hae, a top aide to leader Kim Jong-un, for human rights abuses and censorship, and it re-designated Pyongyang as a violator of religious freedom.

North Korea has responded sensitively to the United States listing it as a state sponsor of terrorism and human trafficker because they are linked to its economic development ambitions. These listings prevent North Korea from joining the IMF and other international financial institutions, which could provide the country with support to develop its economy.

Thus, North Korean propaganda outlets have recently responded sensitively to pressure by the United States on human rights issues. Denuclearization talks between the North and the United States have come to a standstill in recent weeks. Washington has maintained that there won’t be sanctions relief until the North denuclearizes, though Donald Trump administration officials have left open some areas of flexibility as it tries to lure Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]