Sanctions have “impeded” the ability of … North Korea to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN’s top human rights official said on Tuesday.
North Korea is subject to a wide range of sanctions — including a ban on metal goods that blocks countries from sending certain medical equipment to the DPRK without special permission from the UN — as punishment for its nuclear weapons program.
“It is vital to avoid the collapse of any country’s medical system — given the explosive impact that will have on death, suffering, and wider contagion,” said Bachelet, the former president of Chile.
“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” she said. “In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.” “Humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorization for essential medical equipment and supplies,” she added.
North Korea is known to have one of the world’s worst-prepared public health systems for dealing with the rapid spread of a contagious virus. One study last year said North Korea ranks last among all nations in its ability to deal with an infectious disease outbreak.
Humanitarian workers with experience in the country have told NK News that the North has a severe shortage of many basic medical supplies, including gloves and masks, that are essential during a pandemic. And even if the North had all of the equipment it needed, many medical facilities in the country still lack reliable sources of water, electricity, and heat.
On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that he had offered to help the DPRK fend off the coronavirus, despite the icy relationship between the two countries. It remains unclear if Pyongyang said yes to the offer of help — or what type of assistance the Trump administration planned to give.