Representatives of the Eugene Bell Foundation on Wednesday called for the South Korean government to assist them in receiving an exemption from current UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, at a news conference held at the National Assembly in Seoul.
The nonprofit organization has asked the Moon administration to request that the UNSC sanctions committee exempt medicines and supplies for the treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) from sanctions.
“The South Korean government needs to make efforts so that medicines and supplies required to treat around 1000 people can be delivered to North Korea without delay,” Choi Se-moon, an advisor to the NGO, told the press.
After the news conference, program director Jinnie Hong said the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) had already provided the NGO permission to ship supplies and medicines to the DPRK without taking into account of its NGO status.
“Since all is used for the humanitarian purpose, we’d like to request [the Moon administration] to apply for such exemption for supplies used to manage the infectious disease to the UNSC sanctions committee,” Hong said.
Stephen Linton – who heads the Eugene Bell Foundation – said a “discussion is underway” to resolve the issues.
“There isn’t yet a clear response,” Linton told NK News after the press conference. “I think this (news conference) is part of the discussion.”
Help from Seoul was necessary, Linton said, as only international organizations and governments can apply for the exemption.
Linton, in particular, pointed to the necessity of “stainless boilers” for makeshift hospital wards, explaining that MDR-TB patients must be treated in negative-pressure isolation wards with doors which open outwards.
Heating equipment is required in cold areas, he added, but it is too risky to use a briquette or coal in confined spaces.
“We ordered stainless boilers as they don’t decompose. If we install stainless boilers, gas leakage is less likely to happen,” Linton said. “But these are under the list of sanctions.”
UNSC Resolution 2397, adopted in December last year, prohibits the “direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of “iron, steel, and other metals (HS codes 72 through 83).”
Eugene Bell told NK News that the boiler required lies under Harmonized System (HS) Code Chapter 84 which contains nuclear reactors, boilers, and mechanical appliances.
Another item – volts to be used in the construction of temporary wards – also fell under HS code 73, the NGO said.
The NGO confirmed to NK News that they were due to ask the unification ministry’s permission next week to send supplies and medication ahead of a visit to North Korea in May.
The Moon administration in June last year allowed the NGO to ship MDR-TB medication and construction materials for makeshift hospital wards.
Linton said the previous South Korean administration had blocked the shipment of supplies, despite the items not being in violation of either UNSC or ROK sanctions.
Eugene Bell has also asked the Moon government to fund a pilot project to treat around 500 MDR-TB patients in North Korea’s South Hwanghae Province for 18 months.
The DPRK Ministry of Public Health recently signed a memorandum of agreement with Eugene Bell over a project aiming at “treating all the patients with multidrug-resistant TB in South Hwanghae Province.”
The agreement followed the Ministry of Public Health’s request in November 2017 for help with the treatment of some 3000 North Korean patients with MDR-TB in the west of the country.
“North Korea’s request to expand the project is a good opportunity to solve the tuberculosis problem, the fund that the Eugene Bell Foundation has secured is insufficient,” Choi said on Wednesday.
“If the South Korean government supplies medicines and wards, we will deliver them in a transparent manner.”
A total of KRW2.7 billion (around USD$2,530,000) is required to implement the project, according to the NGO, with KRW900 million to be used for medicine and food and KRW1.8 billion to be funneled into the construction of wards.
In September, the Moon administration approved a plan to provide USD$8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea, to be delivered via international organizations. As of January, however, the funds are yet to reach the DPRK.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Eugene Bell Foundation