The U.S. Department of State has defended a recent drop in funding for North Korea human rights projects reported by NK News in January, saying that it may not mean that the Trump administration is according less priority to the issue.
A January notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) announced by State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) showed a 43% drop in the level of assistance being offered for organizations working on North Korea human rights issues compared to a similar one offered in late 2016.
Notably, the recent listing included the removal of an entire category of support, intended to bolster capacity building among recipient organizations, for no explained reason.
But despite the changes, a State Department source who asked to remain unnamed told NK News that: “Promoting human rights and free flow of information the into, out of, and within the DPRK remain a key component of our North Korea policy.”
The reduction in financial support, the official said, might not indicate less financial assistance being prioritized for the subject.
“DRL regularly posts global, regional, or country-specific solicitations throughout the year and it is not uncommon for solicitation amounts to change from year to year,” the official explained.
“This however does not necessarily reflect an overall decline in funding.”
Technical reasons surrounding funding terms might be behind the reduction, the official continued.
“There are a multitude of other reasons that a specific solicitation amount could change, such as anticipation or expectation that proposal(s) from other solicitations could be funded or that, as clarified in the first page of the NOFO, DRL may provide non-competitive amendments to existing awards to maximize the impact and sustainability of the project.”
But the official couldn’t confirm to NK News whether more financial support would, in fact, be made available to North Korea human rights NGOs in the 2018 fiscal year.
“Foreign assistance regulations prohibit us from commenting on current or future solicitations and funding plans.”
The Obama administration increased funding for DRL to provide to North Korea human rights NGOs from USD$1.5 million to $2.7m between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the official confirmed.
The apparent reduction in DRL support on the issue in 2018 comes after the U.S. decided to discontinue the ambassador-level role at the Department of State of special envoy for North Korea human rights issues last August.
In recent weeks President Trump has, however, expressed notable interest in North Korea human rights issues, having highlighted the plight of one defector in his State of the Union speech and invited a group of defectors to the Oval Office last Friday to hear their testimonies.
North Korean authorities do not welcome discussion of human rights issues, meaning the timing of Trump’s focus – amid broader inter-Korean rapprochement – is notable.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: CPC_5338 3 by nknews_hq on 2016-10-01 17:16:10