Nicholas Hamisevicz, a researcher at the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute, echos the sentiment that the benefits of US government grants to funds NGOs promoting human rights and democracy in North Korea were worth the risks.
“While many can have concerns … because of North Korea’s potential reaction, which could include persecution, jailing, and execution of North Korean citizens found to be connected or engaged with human rights activities, and the imprisonment of foreigners deemed to be undertaking these efforts in North Korea, I am still in favor of this call for grant applications,” Hamisevicz said.
Other observers cautioned against interpreting the grant call as any statement of US policy on North Korea. “[The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, or DRL] has specific responsibilities and is one bureau in the whole department of state, so this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as representing some sort of broader government policy,” said Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). “DRL’s remit is in their name (Democracy, Human Rights and Labor). It’s not all-encompassing, but it’s part of the puzzle,” he added, adding that the call would not be relevant for LiNK as the group does not accept government funding.
Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said that “over the years, State/DRL funding has been made available to organizations addressing North Korea from a broad range of angles.”
The grant call is nothing new, but indicates changing priorities at the State Department. While previous grant winners could receive funding of up to $3m a year, the ceiling of $350,000 meant that in 2014 “not many NGOs can work with this funding,” Bada Nam of the People for Successful Korean Reunification, an organization that helps North Korean defectors in China, said. “There are a lot of brilliant ideas to bring information into North Korea. Lots of NGOs are working on this but recently stopped due to financial problems.” Nam said.
The private radio station Open Radio for North Korea ended its broadcasts into North Korea earlier this year, apparently due to a grant coming to an end.