The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on three North Korean officials as it called the regime's human rights record among the world's worst, AFP reported.
In actions required by Congress, the Trump administration said it would seize any US assets of Choe Ryong Hae, described as the right-hand man of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and two others over their roles in suppression of freedom of speech.
"Standing up for such rights and freedoms is a foreign policy priority that represents the best traditions of the United States," said State Department spokesman Robert Palladino.
"Human rights abuses in North Korea remain among the worst in the world and include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence," he added.
The State Department is required by a 2016 law to produce a report on North Korean human rights for Congress twice a year.
However, its submission on Monday was the first since October 2017 as President Donald Trump has championed diplomacy with North Korea that focused squarely on its nuclear program.
"The United States has consistently condemned the North Korean regime for its flagrant and egregious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this administration will continue to take action against human rights abusers around the globe," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the sanctions.
The sanctions will seize any assets of the three officials in the United States and ban any US-based financial transactions with them, noted AFP.
Such restrictions may have little impact on officials in one of the world's most closed countries but will have a clear symbolic force as North Korea seeks greater acceptance by the United States.
Kim and Trump held a historic summit in Singapore last June, during which they signed an agreement which includes a commitment to achieve total denuclearization of Korea, with promises to pursue “vigorous negotiations” to that end.
Subsequent reports suggested, however, that despite its commitment to denuclearize, North Korea has continued to expand infrastructure at nuclear and missile sites.
Trump's hopes of arranging a follow-up summit have been at a standstill, with the North Koreans abruptly calling off a meeting in New York last month with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
North Korea has been insisting on a relaxation of wide-ranging sanctions on the country, while the United States said that the UN Security Council should only ease pressure once Pyongyang takes concrete steps to end its nuclear program.
Despite the stalled contacts, Trump said last week he hoped to organize a follow-up meeting with Kim for early 2019.
"We're getting along very well. We have a good relationship," he said. Asked if he would ever host the North Korean leader in the United States, Trump replied, "At some point, yeah."