Current Event: Otto Warmbier’s Parents Sue North Korea for His Death

White House official photo [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Article by Min Soo Kim

On Christmas Eve, Judge Howell of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that North Korea was liable for over $501 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier. Private citizens are normally not allowed to sue foreign sovereigns, but an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows them to sue state sponsors of terrorism. This lawsuit was filed back in April of last year, a couple of months after the State Department readded North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Otto Warmbier was imprisoned in January of 2016 for allegedly stealing government propaganda from his hotel in North Korea. A month later, he admitted to his alleged crimes through a televised news conference. Experts believe that the confession was coerced. Otto was soon sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. A little over a year later, he was returned to the United States in a comatose state. He died a few days later.

The Warmbiers’ lawsuit claimed that North Korea violated international law by forcing Otto to confess to carrying out an act of subversion on behalf of the United States government. Although it is unclear whether the Warmbiers will receive any money from North Korea, spectators have chimed in with possible ways to procure some form of enforcement of the judgment. One such possibility is to secure a post-judgment attachment against North Korea’s assets in the US or possibly elsewhere. Another method is for the Trump administration to seek money for the Warmbiers as part of its negotiations with North Korea over denuclearization.