The United Nations Security Council has approved an exemption requested by the World Health Organization (WHO) so that diagnostic and medical equipment can be transported into North Korea to assist the government in the event of a COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
The sanctions prohibit certain types of machinery and high-tech equipment as well as other imports in order to deprive Pyongyang of resources that could be funneled into its nuclear and missile programs.
The WHO’s Robert Chelminski made the request to the council’s committee handling sanctions on North Korea on Feb. 25. Committee Chair Christoph Heusgen announced the approval Thursday.
“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,” said Heusgen in the letter.
Great decision, but exemptions should not be necessary
Kee Park, the Director of DPRK Programs for the Korean-American Medical Association, applauded the UNSC’s decision.
“The U.N. Sanctions Committee, and this was followed quickly by the U.S. State Department, they both put out press releases, or at least made public statements that said they would not try to delay in any way, supplies to battle the COVID-19 threats [in] North Korea,” he said.
“This was a welcome statement, and it looks like they’re following through on what they said they’re going to do by rapidly approving these requests,” said Park
“What I’m encouraged by is the fact that some of these requests go above and beyond simple medications. These are actually diagnostic equipment. So, what I’m seeing is that these exemptions are happening very quickly, within days,” said Park, adding, “this is a very good sign.”
But he also said it was wrong that reputable humanitarian organizations like the WHO needed to apply for exemptions in the first place.
“The fact that they actually have to go through a process of getting permission to provide urgent medical and diagnostic equipment and supplies is completely absurd in the face of a true public health emergency. I think we should not have to have these organizations even apply for exemptions. These are not threats to international security,” Park said.
North Korea still has not reported a single case of COVID-19, but the government has been aggressively taking preventative measures to prevent its spread, suggesting to North Korea watchers that it might already be there. A South Korean media outlet even reported that several infected people have died.
Additional reporting by Yewon Ji for RFA’s Korean Service.