UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States is trying to ensure that humanitarian aid doesn't face unnecessary obstacles in getting to North Korea, where the U.N. says around 10 million people need food and other aid and about 20 percent of children are stunted because of malnutrition.
New guidelines proposed by the U.S. and obtained Friday by The Associated Press are expected to be adopted Monday by the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea.
The council has imposed tough sanctions on North Korea in response to its escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but allows for delivery of humanitarian aid.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told U.N. members following his trip to North Korea last month that one effect of sanctions has been "quite substantial delays" in procurement, shipping and delivery of supplies.
"I don't think the intention of the exemption provided for humanitarian supplies was to make it very, very difficult to bring those things in," he said. "I think the intention was to continue to make it possible to bring those things in."
He suggested streamlining procedures and documentation for governments and NGOs seeking to deliver aid to North Korea.
The U.S. proposed guidelines, which will be sent to all 193 U.N. member states after approval, recommend that governments and NGOs submit requests for exemptions in a letter containing 10 specific elements.
Those range from providing detailed descriptions and quantities of the items to be imported, to naming all parties involved in the transfer of goods and showing what measures ensure that the aid is "used for the intended purposes and not diverted for prohibited purposes."
The guidelines state that "due to the time-sensitive nature of humanitarian assistance" the sanctions committee will try to process exemption requests as quickly as possible.
A U.S. official stressed that the United States will enforce all U.N. sanctions on North Korea "until we achieve the final, fully verified, denuclearization of North Korea."
The guidelines are "solely intended" to establish a clear process for the sanctions committee "to review legitimate humanitarian exemption requests and guard against any activities that would undermine existing Security Council resolutions," the official said.
"This detailed review process is designed to ensure that only critical, life-saving humanitarian activities needed in North Korea can continue," said the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
The Netherlands chairs the North Korean sanctions committee, and its U.N. mission stressed that Security Council resolutions "state that sanctions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences."
"Therefore, as chair of the committee, we have encouraged council members to agree on these guidelines, that clarify how aid organizations can request exemptions to the sanctions as to provide humanitarian aid to the North Korean people," the mission said. "We want to make clear that this is about easing the process, not about easing the sanctions."
With a population of about 25 million, North Korea faces chronic food woes as well as shortages of drugs and medical equipment needed to treat tuberculosis, which has plagued the country.
An AP story last month from the capital Pyongyang focused on the long-awaited delivery of American-made machines that enable a TB test to be completed in just two hours, instead of two months. But the machine's cartridges couldn't be replaced without violating sanctions, though it wasn't clear why.