ACTION ALERT: US Blocking Humanitarian Efforts in North Korea
October 9, 2018
Daniel Jasper / KoreaCollaboration & American Friends Service Committee
US NGO's operating humanitarian assistance programs in North Korea have recently encountered new obstacles in their work: The State Department is now stopping US humanitarian actors from traveling to North Korea by denying applications for special validation passports, which are required for US passport holders to travel to North Korea. This shift in policy jeopardizes life-saving aid and may undermine high-level diplomacy. If your organization would like to sign a letter of concern, contact Daniel Jasper below.
US Blocking Humanitarian Efforts in North Korea
Daniel Jasper / KoreaCollaboration
WASHINGTON (October 4, 2018) -- As some of you are aware, US NGO's operating humanitarian assistance programs in North Korea have recently encountered new obstacles in their work. The State Department is now stopping US humanitarian actors from traveling to North Korea by denying applications for special validation passports, which are required for US passport holders to travel to North Korea.
This is a new development that has come to light over the last few weeks. We are still learning more, but we have heard from some US officials that this represents a change in policy by the administration and restricting humanitarian assistance is now considered part of the US' "maximum pressure" campaign.
This shift in policy jeopardizes life-saving aid and may undermine high-level diplomacy; US NGO's represent some of the most consistent channels between the US and North Korea, and the sudden shutdown of these activities will likely cause misunderstandings and send mixed signals during these fragile negotiations.
AFSC and others are having conversations with the State Department and relevant congressional offices in an effort to rollback this new policy. In this regard, we are collecting signatures on the attached letter (also copied below) from organizations that support humanitarian access and diplomacy in general with the North Korea to show broad support for a reversal of this new policy.
If your organization would like to sign on, please email me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The letter will be sent to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo, hand-delivered to key personnel in the State Department, and sent to relevant congressional offices.
Your consideration on these matters is deeply appreciated, and I remain available for further discussion if you or your team would like more information. Please feel free to circulate this letter to those in your network that may be interested in signing on.
Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator, Asia
American Friends Service Committee
1822 R Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009. www.afsc.org
Re: US NGO Humanitarian Assistance to North Korea
Dear President Trump and Secretary Pompeo:
As a coalition of US humanitarian, Korean-American, peacebuilding, arms control, veteran, academic, faith-based, and other civil society organizations, we write to you to express our deep concern over US policies exacerbating humanitarian issues in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea).
These policies will increase the suffering of ordinary North Koreans, restrict people-to-people engagement, and risk undermining high-level diplomacy.
We generally applaud the current high-level engagements and diplomatic efforts underway. However, if the US is truly committed to peace, causing undue suffering among ordinary North Koreans damages US credibility and traumatizes the generation that holds the potential to reset relations.
Earlier this year, the UN warned that 60,000 North Korean children are at risk of severe acute malnourishment potentially leading to starvation due to the interruption of aid caused by sanctions.
Further, reductions in funding and sanctions measures have interfered with the timely delivery of tuberculosis treatments, potentially paving the way for an epidemic of a drug-resistant form of the disease that would likely spread to South Korea and China if left unchecked.
Despite the above warnings, US nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) that have operated humanitarian programs dedicated to providing tuberculous treatments and improving food security in the DPRK for years and even decades are reporting that the Department of State is stopping US humanitarian actors from traveling to the DPRK.
US NGO's report that the State Department is now denying their applications for special validation passports, which are required for US passport holders to travel to the DPRK. US humanitarian delegations have previously received special validation passports under the national interest exemption for "compelling humanitarian considerations." By blocking this access, the State Department is impeding humanitarian actors from monitoring the delivery of aid.
Additionally, US sanctions on North Korea have continued to negatively impact humanitarian activities in North Korea. In many cases, organizations must now wait months for determinations on specific license applications to deliver critical, life-saving aid.
US policies exacerbating the humanitarian situation -- particularly those restricting the work of US NGOs -- are contrary to US commitments to normalize relations with the DPRK as agreed to in the Joint Statement following the Singapore Summit and will likely undermine the State Department's diplomatic efforts.
The programs operated by US NGO's have served as the baseline level of engagement between the US and DPRK for decades. US policies that restrict these activities send mixed signals to the DPRK government because, while the US has publicly committed to normalizing relations, the Administration has quietly rolled back the most consistent channels of engagement with the DPRK.
We are concerned that not only will these roll-backs have grave consequences for ordinary North Koreans and potential public health impacts in South Korea and China, but they will undermine negotiations as these policies could cause misunderstandings and be interpreted as a lack of sincerity on the part of the US
Therefore, we urge the State Department, Treasury Department, and other relevant agencies to take the following steps:
1. Decouple humanitarian issues from negotiations over the DPRK's nuclear program;
2. Lift the travel restrictions for US passport holders traveling to the DPRK or, at minimum, allow humanitarian actors to travel to the DPRK to monitor programs and deliver aid;
3. Modify existing sanctions regulations to allow the timely delivery of unsanctioned humanitarian aid -- preferably in the form of a general license for NGO activities;
4. Put into place policies and regulations that clarify the legal status of humanitarian activities as exempt from sanctions regulations, and;
5. Publicly commit to improving the humanitarian situation in the DPRK to demonstrate the US' sincere commitment to normalizing relations.