The U.S. Department of State announced up to $6 million in funding for projects relating to North Korea human rights on Wednesday, an apparent 400% increase from the $1.5 million offered in a similar announcement dated January last year.
The funding came across two announcements published by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), with one offering up to $5 million for “Grant or Cooperative Agreement” awards and the other, up to $1 million for shorter-term “Fixed Amount Awards“.
A combined total of $4 million is on offer across the two “Notice of Funding Opportunity” (NOFO) announcements for projects that foster the “free flow of information into, out of, and within the DPRK”.
Ideas eligible for potential support include the production and broadcast of radio programs, creation of specialized content for North Korean audiences, and efforts to raise awareness about both DPRK legal rights and international human rights obligations, the NOFOs say.
In addition, a combined total of up to $2 million of support is on offer for projects relating to the “documentation and advocacy” of “human rights and accountability” in North Korea.
These include ideas that might increase the amount of “objective, credible information available about human rights in the DPRK,” which raise “international awareness about human rights conditions,” or which help international actors “adopt approaches or actions that facilitate improvements in human rights conditions.”
With an anticipated two to five projects to be supported from the allocation of $5 million for “Grant or Cooperative Agreements,” and 6-16 projects from the $1 million for “Fixed Amount Awards,” the combined ceiling of potential financial support is much higher than the $1.5 million offered in 2018.
In the context of recent political developments surrounding North Korea, one observer said that was a positive development.
“Even though Moon and Trump have explicitly de-emphasized human rights, it’s good that other parts of the U.S. government continue to support the North Korean people’s access to information and other human rights,” said Sokeel Park, research director of the Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) NGO.
However, another observer familiar with DRL funding calls said that project applicants would have no guarantee to obtain the full scope of potential funding.
“The projects proposed will have to meet certain standards and criteria,” said Ambassador Robert King, the former U.S. special envoy for North Korea human rights issues.
“DRL has usually found a number of projects that meet their criteria and they rate projects in order of quality, suitability, etc,” with projects “funded in order of their ratings until the funds available are gone.”
But the “amount actually funded does not necessarily reach the amount initially announced,” he warned, adding that future budget pressures could complicate the awarding process.
That’s because funds to support the projects are from the Oct 1 2018 – Sept 30 2019 fiscal year budget and there is “expectation that funds could be significantly less for the forthcoming year.”
“The budget plan released by the Trump Administration last week for the next fiscal year – Oct 2019 – Sept 2020 – calls for a reduction of funding for the Department of State of 32% for the next year.”
“While Congress is unlikely to carry out these draconian cuts, the Department of State is likely to be very cautious about over-spending this year,” he said.
From a bigger picture perspective, King said that political changes in South Korea also meant that the human rights field would still face challenges, regardless of the new DRL announcements.
“The South Korean Ministry of Unification is providing less funding for human rights and information programs involving North Korea,” because “their priorities have changed with the pro-engagement policy.”
“This means that funding for human rights groups are reduced across the board,” King said. “The uncertainty about the amounts the U.S. will provide makes it very difficult for any groups dealing with human rights in DPRK.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Main picture: Suraphat Nuea-on
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