Too many employees of international organizations resident in North Korea are living an “idle” life without significant responsibilities, the DPRK’s mission to the United Nations (UN) said on Monday.
In a statement issued to journalists in response to comments by UN Secretary General spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric last Thursday, the DPRK mission defended the country’s recent calls for the United Nations to cut its in-country resident staff.
“It is commonly known that the cooperation activities by the UN Agencies in the DPRK do not proceed as required due to the politicization of assistance by the hostile forces,” the statement read.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country office, it continued, is “bent on only maintaining its office,” blaming international pressure on the DPRK for limiting the work of international organizations.
“Some staff of the WHO, UNICEF and other UN agencies are also idling their time away without any substantial work to do as a result of suspension of assistance and curtailment of the programs,” the statement said.
“There is no place in our country for the international staff to live an idle life without any concrete cooperation projects,” it added, accusing them of “squandering a few donations and contributions” from UN member states.
Reports emerged last week that secretary general of the DPRK’s National Coordinating Committee Kim Chang Min had formally requested that the UN cut its staff working in-country.
The letter reportedly requested that several staff be eliminated from the UNDP and the World Health Organization, but only that one or two leave the UNICEF operations in Pyongyang.
UN officials could, instead of operating out of a Pyongyang office permanently, “visit as and when required,” it added.
International programs, Kim wrote, had “failed to bring the results as desired due to the politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Asked by reporters to comment on the letter Thursday, spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the UN was “in dialogue” with the DPRK government over its request.
“The Secretary‑General obviously looks forward to a dialogue with the representative coming from Pyongyang,” he said, while stressing that the DPRK has the right to make a “sovereign decision” over the number of UN staff in its territory.
UN programs in North Korea, he insisted, had “reached over 2 million people with humanitarian aid in 2018, including food security, nutrition and health projects.”
“Current UN operations already have a light footprint on the ground,” he adding, saying that “continued capacity at current levels is vital for ensuring continued UN support for critical food security, water, nutrition programming, as well as mobilizing resources.”
The DPRK in its response on Monday pushed back against these claims, blaming the UN for failing to assess the “actual situation of assistance” on the ground.
“The United Nations should have… initiated appropriate steps in advance before the DPRK government took the positive measure,” it said.
Writing in NK News on Monday, former UN resident coordinator in North Korea Jerome Sauvage said Pyongyang’s decision was poorly timed given the numerous humanitarian issues the country continues to face.
“North Korea’s demand to cut UN field staff is one more bump on the road to a complicated relationship,” Sauvage wrote.
“Its agencies’ presence in DPRK, however small, is part of a more comprehensive engagement between North Korea and the international community. It is worth preserving.”
The news last week, too, came just days before the powerful Typhoon Lingling made landfall in southern North Korea, with state media reporting the storm had caused major damage to housing and agriculture and left five people dead.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: World Food Programme