“Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act” will break down barriers to lifesaving aid for North Korean civilians


Washington (April 13, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congressman Andy Levin (MI-09) announced introduction of the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act to expedite the delivery of lifesaving aid by nongovernmental organizations to the people of North Korea. The coronavirus crisis has only heightened the urgency of addressing longstanding barriers that complicate humanitarian work in the country. This legislation will institute key changes in sanctions implementation at the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the UN’s North Korea sanctions committee.


The Government of North Korea channels the proceeds of forced labor and other illicit activities into nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, while roughly ten million people in the country are in urgent need of food assistance and more than 40 percent of citizens are undernourished. There are also severe deficiencies in North Korea’s public health infrastructure. Humanitarian groups provide an important lifeline for the North Korean people but under the current sanctions regime, often get inadvertently snagged or delayed by bureaucratic roadblocks. For instance, the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis requires not just food and medicine that are exempted from sanctions, but also basic materials to make temporary patient isolation wards. Even the laptops that humanitarian workers need for their projects can too easily trigger sanctions-related delays


“Sanctions programs are not successful if they prevent basic humanitarian assistance,” said Senator Markey, Ranking Member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I firmly believe that multilateral pressure is necessary to support our diplomacy with North Korea in order to keep the American people safe from the murderous Kim regime. But we must not stand in the way when selfless humanitarians seek to give North Koreans a chance against hunger and deadly infectious diseases. Those who are compelled by their conscience or their faith to provide assistance to those in dire need should not be unduly impeded by national governments or international organizations.”  


“Delivering desperately needed humanitarian aid to the North Korean people is in the best interest of the United States—never more so than right now,” said Rep. Andy Levin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Asia Subcommittee. “Ending a global pandemic requires a completely global response. If the virus proliferates uncontrolled in any country, it continues to pose a huge risk to American public health and safety. In the interest of global health, and for the North Korean people, we must ensure we aren’t standing in the way of lifesaving work.”


A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.


Specifically, the legislation:

  • Requires the Treasury Department to, for instance, expand its narrow humanitarian sanctions exception to cover goods that support humanitarian projects, beyond just food and medicine
  • Requires the Treasury Department to report regularly on humanitarian license requests to encourage timely responses
  • Requires the Treasury Department to issue plainly worded guidance to ensure that not only banks but also shippers, suppliers, and others involved in aid understand how to make use of humanitarian exemptions
  • Requires the administration to use U.S. influence at the UN to push for changes that expedite humanitarian exemptions and ease application burdens for nongovernmental organizations
  • Requires the State Department to brief Congress on actions that could simplify travel authorizations for legitimate humanitarian work in North Korea


Organizations that have advocated for these steps include American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee - U.S. Washington Office, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, Union for Reform Judaism, Win Without War, and more.