The UN Security Council committee responsible for sanctions on the DPRK last week approved an exemption request from Handicap International, allowing the humanitarian organization to deliver hundreds of items into North Korea previously held up due to sanctions.
A January 25-dated letter to Handicap International – which recently changed their name to Humanity & Inclusion (H&I) – was uploaded to the official website of the UN 1718 Sanctions Committee this week, approving their late November 2018 request for an exemption due to the humanitarian nature of their work.
The request was, in particular, “to authorize the shipment of materials and equipment required for Handicap International’s Early Detection and Intervention Project to enable possible prevention of disabilities in children,” according to the letter.
Attached to the letter is a list of various quantities of 95 items worth a total of USD$109,390, which either contained sanctioned materials or necessitated payments which other involved parties sought to avoid out of fear of violating sanctions.
H&I’s stated purpose in the delivery of the items is “to establish Early Intervention therapy units and early disability screening units in two selected health facilities of North Pyongan and Kangwon Province.”
“Material will be used to provide early intervention and functional rehabilitation service to newborn and children with disabilities under supervision of technical expert (international) hired by Handicap International,” according to the annex of the letter.
The list of items approved for H&I primarily consists of therapeutic materials such as wood and rubber equipment to help children improve their balance, puzzles, office equipment, medical devices, and mobility assistance equipment.
All items are Chinese in origin, except for certain medical devices such as those used to test for hearing disabilities, infrared muscle pain relief lamps, and electrical devices used to treat pain.
The letter says that they will be delivered to North Korea “via road from China and via air from Singapore.”
The single largest and most expensive order in the list is a USD$20,000 purchase of 100 bicycles (priced at $200 each).
H&I and other humanitarian organizations have in the past expressed frustration at what they saw as unreasonable enforcement standards.
In an internal EU document reviewed by NK News last summer, the organization said they were having “huge difficulties in procuring items… from China as most of them are somehow made of or [contain] metal and iron” and thus prohibited from export to North Korea under current UN sanctions.
H&I also previously noted difficulties making payments to Chinese suppliers, saying they would often be refused by Chinese intermediary banks due to sanctions, forcing them and other organizations to deal in cash.
But the UN committee said in their approval letter to H&I that “the sanctions measures imposed by the Security Council through its resolutions with respect to the DPRK are not intended to bear a negative impact on the people of the DPRK.”
This week’s exemption follows others earlier this month, in what appears to be a renewed effort to follow through with a stated intention to avoid negative impacts of sanctions, with the U.S. announcing in December it would “review” its policy on humanitarian assistance to the DPRK.
State Department Special Representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun said at the time he understood “many American humanitarian aid organizations operating in the DPRK are concerned the strict enforcement of international sanctions has occasionally impeded the legitimate humanitarian assistance to the Korean people.”
But as many organizations are not based in the U.S., additional policy changes were reportedly pushed by the U.S. at the UN level this month as well.
Shortly thereafter, the 1718 Sanctions Committee uploaded four exemption approvals for humanitarian activities dated January 18, for UNICEF, the Eugene Bell Foundation, Christian Friends of Korea, and First Steps Health Society.
The committee’s annual report for 2018 stated that a total of 17 exemption requests were approved last year, with 15 for direct humanitarian activities, one regarding bank accounts linked to humanitarian activities, and one “regarding the prohibition on joint ventures.”
NK News reached out to the committee multiple times for a detailed list of these exemptions, but has not received a response.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Myriam Abord / Humanity & Inclusion
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