World Bulletin / News Desk
The U.S. has never before sanctioned the North for abusing its people, nor directly targeted Kim -- although the United Nations General Assembly has supported referring Pyongyang's leadership to the International Criminal Court, having been presented evidence since 2014 of widespread violations including the brutal treatment of more than 100,000 political prisoners.
North Korea is already operating under crippling global sanctions following its fourth nuclear test earlier this year but has continued to violate multiple UN resolutions by regularly testing ballistic missiles.
The action Wednesday by Washington’s Treasury Department means that Kim and other senior officials will be barred from business and travel in the U.S.
"The government highly praises and welcomes the step that the U.S. has taken in imposing sanctions on human rights violators in the North," Seoul's foreign ministry stated.
"The government expects that it will lead the world to better understand the systemic and extensive human rights violations going on in the North."
As conditions in North Korea inevitably grow tougher under the impact of sanctions, more ordinary people have apparently been risking their lives and the punishment of loved ones to flee the country.
South Korea's unification ministry released data Thursday showing that nearly 750 North Koreans escaped to the South in the first half of this year -- up more than 20 percent from 2015.
The total number of North-South defectors since the 1990s is set to surpass 30,000 by the end of the year.
Most escapees make a perilous journey through China, which has a policy of forcibly repatriating North Koreans despite the punishment they face in their homeland.