North Korea officials accused of human rights abuses

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Human Rights

North Korea has deployed more than 300 undercover security officers around the world to spy on government personnel and laborers to prevent them from defecting, according to information provided by a former North Korean security official.

The overseas operatives are engaged in human rights abuses related to their monitoring of activities of North Korean diplomats, government officials and the tens of thousands of laborers who are sent abroad to raise cash for the communist regime of Kim Jong-un.

According to The Washington Times, the North Korean defector disclosed to that the activities of the Ministry of State Security, the totalitarian state’s spy and security arm, last month, according to an official familiar with the defector’s testimony.

The defector revealed that MSS operatives are engaged in human rights abuses such as extorting money from overseas North Koreans, kidnappings, beatings and torture.

In one case, a North Korean student in France identified only as “Han” attempted to defect in November 2014 after his family was purged by the Kim regime. Before he could defect, the student was abducted by MSS agents and was about to be forcibly sent back to North Korea when he managed to escape.

Another case in Europe two years ago involved MSS agents who tried to forcibly repatriate the child of a North Korean diplomat. That bid also failed. Many other North Koreans, however, have been sent to die in prison labor camps.

Most of the MSS agents abroad operate under diplomatic cover in embassies and U.N. posts. About 100 MSS agents are devoted to monitoring the more than 50,000 North Koreans working overseas, mainly in construction sites in China, Russia, the Middle East and Africa.

The export of workers has increased under the Kim regime in a bid to gain hard currency. The number of MSS agents posted overseas also has increased in recent years as more North Koreans have begun defecting.

North Koreans working abroad were subjected to extortion of their wages, beatings, forced repatriation and punishment for contacts with foreigners.

A North Korean construction worker in Qatar told the South Korean newspaper Dong A Ilbo last month that workers are starved while being forced to engage in labor-intensive construction work for three-year stints.

The MSS also routinely extorts a major portion of North Korean workers’ paychecks, which can range from $150 per month to $1,000. Workers’ death benefits also are extorted by the agents.

Details about the rights abuses by MSS agents come after the U.S. government this month imposed more sanctions on Pyongyang for human rights abuses. The Treasury Department slapped sanctions on seven North Koreans and two agencies Jan. 11, including MSS Director Kim Won-hong.

“The MSS engages in torture and inhumane treatment of detainees during interrogation and in the country’s network of political prison camps,” the Treasury Department stated in announcing the sanctions. “This inhumane treatment includes beatings, forced starvation, sexual assault, forced abortions, and infanticide,” the department added, noting that Mr. Kim directs the rights abuses of the MSS.

The action coincided with the release of a State Department report on human rights that identified North Korea as among the world’s most egregious violators of human rights.

The State Department also said North Korea “continues to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor, and torture.”

“The North Korean regime not only engages in severe human rights abuses, but it also implements rigid censorship policies and conceals its inhumane and oppressive behavior,” said John E. Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s office of foreign assets control.

The sanctions expose “individuals supporting the North Korean regime and underscores the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting accountability for serious human rights abuses and censorship in North Korea.”

The unilateral U.S. sanctions so far have not been matched by United Nations sanctions. The U.N. Security Council in November urged member states to reduce North Korean diplomatic staff in their countries, and said Pyongyang should take steps to alleviate human rights abuses.

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