NGOs raise the alarm: sanctions are still stifling the country

Delivering humanitarian aid remains a problem. US sanctions are the most restrictive, expert says. Applications for relief on humanitarian grounds are possible but can take months. For the founder of the Eugene Bell Foundation, sanctions “invariably affect the most vulnerable”.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Delivering bring humanitarian aid to North Korea still pose “major challenges" to NGOs, this according to the Eugene Bell Foundation.

In a press release, the US-based humanitarian organisation notes that recent summits involving Korean and US leaders did not bring the improvements "many assumed".

For this reason, the Foundation and other organisations, together with government officials and experts, organised a seminar held on 20 June focused on UN and US sanctions and how to obtain the permits and exemptions needed to operate in North Korea.

David Wolff, an attorney with Crowell & Moring, a US-based international law firm, noted that US punitive measures are the most restrictive.

They cover both imports and exports and apply to both US and non-US persons for any reason (including, for example, any “South Korean national in the United States on holiday at Disneyworld").

Sanctions exempt humanitarian aid, some from government sources, whilst others require a licence.

NGOs can apply to work in North Korea on humanitarian grounds, but their requests can take months, and exclusively concern the transactions and persons specified in the application.

The UN approach is more flexible. According to its resolutions, punitive measures are not intended to "negatively" affect the work of NGOs.

UN sanctions also do not require exemptions for goods not specifically included in the list of banned products.

Furthermore, the UN punitive measures do not concern the "Government of the DPRK", (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) but target 80 individuals and 75 agencies.

All these sanctions, in addition to bilateral ones and those of European Union, make it hard to bring aid.

Last month, NK News looked at a series of documents by NGOs and UN agencies. They highlight a number of issues, not only about delivering certain goods – the authorisation process can be very long – but also finding the means to deliver them.

One major obstacle for NGOs involves metals. French NGO Handicap International (HI) reported “huge difficulties” in bringing wheelchairs, crutches and canes.

According to UNICEF, a shipment of insecticide meant for the DPRK malaria eradication programme has been held up in India since December.

Stephen Linton, president of the Eugene Bell Foundation, told AsiaNews that the "biggest problem for us is sanctions", which “invariably affect the most vulnerable”.

“Although humanitarian assistance is not supposed to be affected by sanctions, the latest regulations are so broad that we are not able to ship all we need for our programme. The NGO representatives at the seminar raised this issue.”

Still, “We are hoping that the UN Security Council DPRK Sanctions Committee will provide a way for humanitarian aid organisations to apply for humanitarian aid exemptions. If that happens, our programme can return to normal.”

Ultimately, "Our greatest challenge today is sanctions,” Linton stressed.