A federal judge has ordered North Korea to pay $501 million in damages to the parents of American college student Otto Warmbier over his death.
The verdict was handed down Monday by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who noted that the large amount awarded to Warmbier’s parents was necessary in order to punish the country, which she said has a "complete disregard for human rights".
Fred and Cindy Warmbier filed the suit against the North Korean government in a federal court in Washington last April seeking $1 billion in damages.
The ruling is largely symbolic, however, as there is no legal mechanism to force Pyongyang to pay.
Warmbier was jailed in 2016 for stealing a sign at the Pyongyang hotel he and his fellow students were staying at while on a tour. After detaining him for 17 months, North Korea sent him back to the U.S. in a coma and suffering extensive brain damage. He died a week later at a medical center in the city of Cincinnati.
"North Korea is liable for the torture, hostage taking and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier," Howell said in her opinion.
"Before Otto traveled with a tour group on a five-day trip to North Korea, he was a healthy, athletic student of economics and business in his junior year at the University of Virginia, with 'big dreams' and both the smarts and people skills to make him his high school class salutatorian, homecoming king and prom king."
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump made the lawsuit possible by reinstating North Korea on a list of state sponsors of terrorism in November 2017. U.S. citizens injured in acts of state-sponsored terrorism can take legal action against countries on the list.