A federal judge has ordered rogue nation North Korea to pay more than $US500 million ($700 million) in a wrongful death suit filed by the parents of American college student Otto Warmbier.
- North Korea cannot be legally forced to pay but decision is symbolic
- Otto Warmbier was left blind, deaf and brain damaged while in North Korean custody
- Parents of Warmbier said the judge’s decision brought a sense of justice
Mr Warmbier, 22, died in June 2017 shortly after he was returned to the US in a coma and showing apparent signs of torture while in custody.
He had visited North Korea with a tour group when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 on suspicion of stealing a propaganda poster.
In Washington on Monday (local time), US District Judge Beryl Howell ruled that North Korea should pay damages to Mr Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy.
The judgment is largely a symbolic victory for now, since there is no mechanism to force North Korea to pay.
The Warmbiers said they were thankful the court found the government of Kim Jong-un “legally and morally” responsible for their son’s death.
“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,” they said in a joint statement.
“Today’s thoughtful opinion by Chief Judge Howell is a significant step on our journey.”
Cindy and Fred Warmbier have succeeded in their wrongful death court case against North Korea. (AP: Frank Franklin II)
The lawsuit, filed in April, describes in horrific detail the physical abuse Mr Warmbier allegedly endured in North Korean custody.
When his parents boarded a plane to see him upon arrival in the US, they were “stunned to see his condition”, according to court documents.
He was blind and deaf, his arms were curled and mangled and he was jerking violently and howling, completely unresponsive to his family’s attempts to comfort him.
His once straight teeth were misaligned, and he had an unexplained scarred wound on his foot.
An expert said in court papers that the injuries suggested he had been tortured with electrocution.
A neurologist later concluded that the college student suffered brain damage, likely from a loss of blood flow to the brain for 5 to 20 minutes.
The complaint also said Mr Warmbier was pressured to make a televised confession and then convicted of subversion after a one-hour trial.
He was denied communication with his family. In early June 2017, Mr Warmbier’s parents were informed he was in a coma and had been in that condition for one year.