A United States federal judge has ordered the North Korean government to pay the parents of deceased student Otto Warmbier more than $500 million, ruling the country responsible for his death.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a very strongly-worded statement that the large payout was necessary to rebuke North Korea for “the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier.”
Warmbier, 22, died in June 2017 shortly after he was returned to the United States in a coma following a stint in a North Korean prison. He had been sentenced to 15 years hard labour in March 2016 after reportedly stealing a poster while on a trip in the country.
As you might imagine, this is little more than a symbolic victory for Warmbier’s parents. There is no mechanism by which the court can force North Korea to make such a large payment, which would represent about 2% of the country’s gross domestic product.
“We put ourselves and our family through the ordeal of a lawsuit and public trial because we promised Otto that we will never rest until we have justice for him,” Warmbier’s parents said in a joint statement.
The couple said they were glad that the lawsuit named the government of North Korea as “legally and morally” liable for their son’s death.
The reason this lawsuit was possible was the Trump administration’s decision to place North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in November 2017.