The hidden human health side of sanctions against North Korea

The economy of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has suffered through decades of international sanctions … and the health system has been one of the most impacted sectors.

International aid organizations and aid workers who are active in DPRK have been quite straightforward and linked the collapse of the vital public services to the international sanctions. According to aid agencies, the shortages first hit the health sector; essential medicine and diagnostic devices are either unavailable or take many months before they can get into the country. As a result, programs designed to fight diseases such as Tuberculosis, either delay indefinitely or get altogether cancelled.

Additionally, surgery anesthetics, common antibiotics, obstetric medicines, spare parts of medical devices and laboratory supplies cannot be imported or are significantly delayed to enter the country if some of their parts or substances are listed as prohibited goods.

Even a product which is almost entirely made in a third country but it has a component or a spare part made by a US based company, cannot be imported to North Korea without the permit of the US authorities. Those restrictions apply to everything, from the import of much needed technology to modernize public services, to spare parts of agricultural machinery, fertilizers and pesticides.

[Even] the donation of soccer balls is considered a breach of the international sanctions because the 1874 resolution of the UNSC includes all sports goods in its list of luxury items. Accordingly, in the autumn of 2013 the cargo of an American Charity was confiscated; it contained 1000 soccer balls to be donated to two North Korean orphanages.

The years of 2013 and 2014 were probably the worst for aid organizations working in DPRK. The sanctions against the Bank of Foreign Commerce of North Korea had frozen all financial transactions and the aid groups were unable to pay salaries to their staff, rent and utilities bills. Even the World Food Program (WFP) had to suspend production in five out of its seven factories producing fortified biscuits for malnourished children.

Is there any justification for the international sanctions besides their political significance? How long will the international community continue to punish ordinary Koreans for the actions of a government that they have no control on?

[Read full CounterPunch article by Fragkiska Megaloudi]

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