Prompt and unconditional humanitarian cooperation for the Covid-19 response for North Korean
Humanitarian cooperation for the prevention and control of Covid-19 for North Koreans should be implemented promptly and unconditionally
The spread of Covid-19 in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(DPRK) continues to increase at an alarming rate. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) have reported 56 deaths and that the cumulative total of people with fever symptoms has risen to 1,483,060. At this rate of infection, the lives and safety of North Koreans could be at great risk. With protracted economic sanctions, natural disasters, and border closures, it is deeply worrying that the spread of Covid-19 is aggravating the conditions of already suffering North Koreans. Humanitarian cooperation to assist the DPRK’s response to Covid-19 must be implemented quickly and unconditionally.
Since 2020, both the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK have recommended that sanctions against the DPRK be eased or suspended in the context of the global pandemic. Nevertheless, UN sanctions against the DPRK have continued and the US has imposed additional sanctions even after the DPRK-US summit. With financial sanctions and other factors remaining in place, a prompt decision to grant certain sanctions exemptions alone was not sufficient to ensure the DPRK’s adequate response to Covid-19. The Republic of Korea(ROK) government has been expressing its willingness to help the DPRK with the prevention and control of the disease and the promotion of health, but it has not taken any political or military measures to improve relations or to build trust. Rather, it has resumed the joint ROK-US military exercises and continued to build up arms and introduce aggressive weapons. Covid-19 is spreading in the DPRK at a time when trust has collapsed and dialogue and negotiations have been halted due to the unsuccessful implementation of the inter-Korean agreements and the DPRK-US agreements. It is heartbreaking that the agreements reached in the 2018 inter-Korean discussions on health care policies have not been implemented. What is most needed to overcome the current crisis is a sincere approach and we urge the following.
First, the ROK government and the international community needs to provide unconditional support for medicines, protective equipment, diagnostic equipment and vaccines, and should take all possible steps to achieve this. DPRK has a 0% vaccination rate. Omicron variants are known to have a lower mortality rate, but the mortality rate for unvaccinated individuals has increased by more than a factor of ten. With DPRK’s weak health infrastructure and the scarcity of diagnostic equipment and basic medicines, there is a risk of a high mortality and infection rate. As such, humanitarian aid must be provided promptly and unconditionally. Furthermore, the ROK government needs to propose cooperation in a way that is acceptable to the DPRK in order to rebuild broken trust. It needs to actively consider a variety of measures, including behind the scenes contact and support through international and civil society organizations.
Second, the international community, including the United States, needs to make every effort to assist the DPRK’s response to Covid-19, and to urgently discuss the easing or suspension of sanctions. Severe sanctions and the deterioration in inter-Korean relations and DPRK-US relations have made it difficult to allow a prompt and effective response to the rapidly spreading pandemic. The spread of Covid-19 in the DPRK is not the problem of the DPRK alone. Viruses have no borders. The failure of one country to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19 or the emergence of new variants, can cause a global threat. This makes multilateral cooperation or international cooperation crucial when coping with infectious diseases. Changes in sanctions are urgently needed not only to ‘support’ the DPRK, but also for a global joint response to the pandemic. In addition, we emphasize that easing military tensions, improving relations, and furthering the peace process are issues directly related to the safety of the people on the Korean Peninsula.
Lastly, the DPRK government also needs to take effective measures to minimize the suffering of and damage to its people. Lockdown alone cannot stop the quickly spreading virus. We urge the DPRK government to find a way to address the problem by accepting the proposals of Covid-19-related dialogues and other proposals for cooperation. In order to overcome the current crisis, the combined efforts of the ROK, the DPRK, the US, along with the international community, are required.
May 17, 2022
Civil Peace Forum
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