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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A Canadian/U.S. aid organization received approval from the UN on March 14 to deliver items to North Korea such as hygiene kits and water filters prohibited under international sanctions, according to the 1718 Sanctions Committee website.
The sanctions exemption for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is the 19th from the UN committee this year, following efforts that began at the end of 2018 to reform a process that many organizations, including the MCC, saw as overly restrictive and harmful towards humanitarian aid efforts in North Korea.
An annex to MCC’s exemption application, posted Wednesday to the committee site, detailed the metal components which had technically prevented their delivery to the DPRK under sanctions passed at the end of 2017.
The items include 360 water filter buckets, 2500 hygiene kits with metal nail clippers, 1000 relief kits with metal nail clippers and metal bucket handles, and 1250 infant care kits that include sanctioned safety pins.
Many of these contain U.S.-branded products, such as Colgate dental items and Irish Spring and Dove soap, as well as buckets produced by the Letica Corporation and water filters by Sawyer Products.
Other items included, which must be delivered to North Korea within six months of the March 14 approval, include a few dozen surgical instruments such as forceps and head mirrors, as well as soymilk delivery containers “used to transport soymilk daily to orphanages and kindergartens” – all containing stainless steel.
The metal and steel contained in these items are prohibited under UN Security Council sanctions Resolution 2397, passed in December 2017, which cover a broad range of metals under HS codes 72 through 83.
Water filters for use in the buckets, which were also highlighted for containing metal handles, are also prohibited under the same resolution, under HS code 84 for machinery.
Most of the items will be distributed to three pediatric hospitals in Wonsan, Pyongsong, and Sariwon, while the soymilk containers will go to the Pyongsong Children’s Foodstuffs Factory, all of which have worked with MCC in the past.
According to the MCC website, the organization has since 2012 sent “high-quality, non-GMO soybeans” to the factory, and as a result “more than 800 children have access to protein-rich soy milk, tofu and toasted soybeans.”
The organization began its work in North Korea in 1995.
MCC has also in the past sent canned meat to orphanages and to tuberculosis and hepatitis patients, provided flood and disaster relief, and even invited officials and specialists in agriculture from the DPRK to visit Canada in summer 2018 to learn “about agricultural research and farm practices in” Manitoba.
But the organization has expressed concern over sanctions preventing humanitarian activities, focusing particularly on a U.S. State Department restriction banning citizens from traveling to North Korea.
In an October 2018 post to its website, the MCC wrote that “U.S.-imposed travel restrictions hinder most human interaction between the two nations.”
It also sent a letter opposing the measure to the State Department in August 2017 just before the travel ban went into effect, saying the ban would “create enormous obstacles for MCC to continue assisting vulnerable populations in North Korea” and that it would “close off some of the few remaining avenues for dialogue… that could pave the way for future diplomacy.”
On UN sanctions in general, it said that “financial sanctions and shipping constraints limit the import of almost every kind of item imaginable.”
The organization has engaged in direct advocacy in the U.S. Congress on the issue, and has pushed for a peace declaration to be a top priority in the ongoing top-level U.S.-DPRK negotiations.
Most recently following the summit in Hanoi and the failure for the two sides to sign an agreement, MCC said on its website that “declaring a formal end to the Korean War is a necessary step if we hope to reach a more complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But while the U.S. travel ban was extended last fall through at least August this year, it still intends to send teams to North Korea to deliver some of the exempted items this summer under humanitarian approvals to the restrictions.
The medical equipment will be delivered by hand by MCC workers during a monitoring visit scheduled for May 2019, the annex to the exemption said, bringing the items in their luggage on a flight from Beijing.
MCC expects to deliver the water filter kits, hygiene kits, relief kits, and infant care kits within “6 months of exemption approval,” with a desired date of June 2019, by ship from Ephrata, Pennsylvania in the U.S. to Dalian, China, and on to Nampho port on the DPRK west coast.
The stainless steel cans of Chinese origin will be shipped within six months as well, from the Chinese border city of Dandong down to Pyongsong.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)/Jenny Deibert