“Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act” tackles roadblocks to essential aid for the North Korean people
Washington (March 2, 2021) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congressman Andy Levin (MI-09) announced the reintroduction 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 modify sanctions implementation at the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the United Nation’s North Korea sanctions committee to ensure that assistance can reach those in need.
President Joseph Biden’s “January 21, 2021 National Security Memorandum” calls upon the State and Treasury Departments to undertake a comprehensive review of U.S. sanctions policy to ensure that U.S. and multilateral sanctions imposed on North Korea, and other countries, do not inadvertently impede life-saving aid from reaching those in need. This legislation lays out a strategy for ensuring that current sanctions do not impede assistance inside North Korea.

“Sanctions programs are not successful if they prevent basic humanitarian assistance,” said Senator Markey, lead Democrat on the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The United States must continue multilateral pressure and diplomatic efforts to reach a solution that ensures the American people and our allies are safe from a nuclear Kim regime. I hope that President Biden’s whole-of-government review of sanctions policy adopts the steps Rep. Levin and I lay out in this bill to aid North Koreans suffering from hunger and disease. We can and must work to honor the generosity of non-governmental organizations by removing bureaucratic roadblocks that limit legitimate humanitarian assistance from reaching one of the planet’s most vulnerable populations.”
“Humanitarian aid efforts in North Korea have long been a lifeline for a population in tremendous need,” said Representative Levin, Vice Chair of the Asia, Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation Subcommittee. “This legislation will allow dedicated aid workers—many of them Christian missionaries—to provide vital supplies to the North Korean people and make sure we’re not standing in the way of lifesaving work. If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it is that public health is global health. Ensuring the health of the North Korean people is a moral imperative and in the best interest of the American people.”
More than 40 percent of the people living in North Korea face food insecurity and widespread food shortages have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, risking long-term damage to the health and development of vulnerable populations. 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.

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. 

Specifically, the legislation:
  • Requires the Treasury Department to expand narrow humanitarian sanctions exceptions to cover, among others, items 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.
“Maryknoll missioners who carry medicine to North Korea as part of humanitarian missions tell us that the world does not know the full extent of the public health crisis there,” said Susan Gunn, Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. “This important bill seeks to right an urgent wrong, to care for our neighbors, and to build bridges of mutual understanding and friendship that hopefully, can contribute to the wellbeing of the North Korean people and fulfill President Biden’s vision to make the United States, once again, a leading force for good in the world.”
“While AFSC and others have tried to deliver life-saving aid to the people of North Korea, we have hit serious obstacles. This increases the likelihood of serious humanitarian devastation and geopolitical crisis,” said Daniel Jasper, the Asia Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. “We are grateful to Senator Markey and Representative Andy Levin for their efforts to address these obstacles with the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act. It will ensure that people are not further victimized and that humanitarian organizations can address the mounting needs in the country.”
“Divided Families USA welcomes the reintroduction of the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act, particularly as it can serve as a step forward toward removing barriers for healing and closure for elderly Korean Americans, who have faced legal and bureaucratic barriers in traveling to North Korea to reunite with their direct relatives,” said Paul Lee of Divided Families USA.
“The United States should not inhibit humanitarian response to basic needs anywhere in the world,” said Jennifer Deibert, North Korea Program Director for Mennonite Central Committee. “Responding to the health and food security needs of North Korea’s vulnerable populations requires flexibility – which is difficult when even basic humanitarian items require complex exemptions from multiple U.S. agencies. We welcome this bill that would help us respond with needed agility to health and food security needs in North Korea, just as we have for the past 25 years.”