- US district judge rules Pyongyang must pay damages to parents
- Lawsuit describes in detail the abuse Warmbier, 22, endured
A US court has ordered Pyongyang to pay $501 million in damages for the torture and death of US college student Otto Warmbier last year, who died after being released from captivity in North Korea.
US district judge Beryl Howell in Washington ruled that North Korea should pay damages to Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of the University of Virginia student.
Warmbier’s parents sued North Korea in April over their son’s death. The 22-year-old student died after being imprisoned in North Korea from January 2016 until he was returned to the United States in a coma in June 2017. He died a few days later and an Ohio coroner said the cause was lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
Warmbier was a University of Virginia student who was visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 on suspicion of stealing a propaganda poster.
The judgment is largely a symbolic victory for now, since there is no mechanism to force North Korea to pay.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier said they were thankful that that 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.”
The lawsuit, filed in April, describes in horrific detail the physical abuse Warmbier 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.
The 22-year-old 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 five to 20 minutes.
The complaint also said Warmbier, who was from a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, 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, Warmbier’s parents were informed he was in a coma and had been in that condition for one year.