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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) 1718 Committee this month granted four new exemptions facilitating the purchase and delivery of goods related to humanitarian work in North Korea, the committee’s website showed.
The exemptions came into force on January 18 and were granted to UNICEF, the Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF), Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), and to “Canada,” with subsequent details identifying the NGO “First Steps Health Society” as the benefactor.
According to the website, the purpose of these humanitarian assistance exemptions varies between organizations, though three of the four include the treatment of tuberculosis.
Among the exemptions granted was for the “Shipment of 300 20-litre stainless-steel soymilk cans to the DPRK by the Canadian NGO ‘First Steps Health Society’ as part of its assistance and relief activities in the DPRK to prevent malnutrition in children,” a submission reads.
Additional waivers were granted for “shipments planned for delivery by CFK to the DPRK in relation to its humanitarian projects for vulnerable populations of tuberculosis, hepatitis and/or pediatric patients in the DPRK.”
There are currently six 1718 Committee exemptions in effect, with UNICEF and the EBF having previously been granted approvals for other purchases and shipments in October and November of 2018.
Each exemption lasts for a period of six months.
At the time of publication, only two of the approval letters and annexes out of the four granted have been published on the 1718 website, with those related to the UNICEF and EBF exemptions present.
While the EBF annex only shows three goods requiring exemptions, the UNICEF annex lists 50 separate exemptions required with a value of over USD$520,000.
This involves a vast range of goods that includes computers, metals, solar power systems, construction materials related to safe drinking water, vehicle parts, ambulances, and pumping systems.
Both of the uploaded letters, signed by the current chair of the 1718 committee Christoph Heusgen, said that international sanctions are not designed to have an impact on the work of humanitarian organizations.
“The Committee reiterates 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,” it said.
Despite this provision, organizations and workers last year reported encountering adverse consequences and an increasingly complex operational environment due to sanctions.
2018 saw increasing numbers of American humanitarian workers complain that their applications for DPRK travel exemptions – required due to a State Department ban on travel to the DPRK – were being rejected by the U.S. government.
As many as five NGOs told NK News in October that they had been affected by travel rejections the month prior.
In December, however, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun announced that the State Department would be reviewing its policy on humanitarian engagement with North Korea on the direction of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Discussions with a range of stakeholders this month saw U.S. government officials announce that it would work to better facilitate the flow of private individuals and aid to the country, multiple people engaged in those discussions told NK News at the time.
In those discussions, according to one source, Biegun acknowledged there was a backlog of exemption requests currently facing the 1718 Committee and that these would now be pushed forward.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: UNICEF