There are few NGOs working in North Korea, least of all in the area of disarmament. Such policies are among the most closely guarded in Kim Jong Il's totalitarian state, which makes working with the government to change them all but impossible even for another government, let alone for an NGO. Even humanitarian and environmental NGOs face severe problems. In their book, "Paved with Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea," L. Gordon Flake, Scott Snyder, and Michael Schloms explain:
The work of foreign NGOs is eyed with great skepticism from North Korea, especially because the concept of 'Nongovernmental Organization' in a totalitarian regime like North Korea is nonexistent. Thus the foreign NGOs are more often treated like foreign state delegations. In particular, NGOs from the US and South Korea are subject to continual suspicion, which among other things meant that they are not allowed a permanent working place in North Korea…European NGOs, which are deemed to be less dangerous, have enjoyed more freedom…
A considerable problem for all NGOs in this area is not only the persistent state monitoring, but the limited access to the people. A need assessment, for example, of nourishment help can not be coordinated with the hungry; rather it must be worked upon within the state guidelines. The same goes for implementation analyses. Nevertheless it can be said that the work of foreign development help organizations has, up to now, averted a new famine."
That being said, there are some NGOs that have been able to do some work in the region. Most of these NGOs focus on the atrocious human rights situation in North Korea, which the UN General Assembly responded to on March 14, 2006 with Resolution 60/173.
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) is a Japan-based NGO that works to rescue and secure North Korean defectors and detained humanitarian aid workers, particularly in China (which, according to LFNKR, seeks to arrest and repatriate defectors). It has developed new "underground railroad" routes, supplied clothing and food, built small and dispersed shelters, paid for hospitalization costs, helped defectors settle in South Korea and Japan, and sponsored a foster parent program for child refugees.
North Korea Freedom Coalition, based in Virginia in the US, has over 60 public member organizations and individual members representing millions of people from the US, South and North Korea, Japan, and other nations. The Coalition also has private members that provide humanitarian relief inside North Korea and members in China and other nations that feed, shelter, and rescue North Korean refugees. In fact, all the major NGOs in the US, Japan, and South Korea, especially the North Korean defectors' organizations, are either members of the Coalition or work as partners with the Coalition on its many activities. This NGO was the driving force behind the passage by the US House and Senate of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 (HR 4011).
Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is an NGO based in Washington, DC that works to protect the human rights of people living in North Korea and those living as refugees elsewhere. LiNK consults for and lobbies government and institutional officials to inform them of the growing problem. Important for the issue of disarmament, LiNK works to bridge the US-North Korea divide by breaking down cultural barriers, broadening cultural exchanges, and supporting efforts to bring the two sides to dialogue.
The Commission to Help North Korean Refugees (CNKR) is an NGO affiliated with the Christian Council of Korea in Seoul. As its name suggests, CNKR focuses on helping refugees. In pursuit of that goal, CNKR has petitioned the United Nations (with an impressive 11.8 million signatures) to allow refugee status to be applied to North Korean refugees in China and to stop the Chinese government's forced repatriation of those refugees. CNKR has also successfully brought about 400 refugees into South Korea.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is focused on promoting religious freedom and human rights for Christians around the world. As a result, part of their attention is geared toward human rights, particularly religious rights, in North Korea.
Helping Hands Korea is a Christian mission in Seoul, South Korea that provides famine relief, particularly to schools and orphanages. Additionally, this NGO gives direct aid for North Korean refugees in China and sometimes coordinating logistical support for their escape to third countries. TIME Magazine profiled Rev. Timothy Peters, the Project Manager, in this April 2006 article.
Based in Washington, DC, North Korea Freedom House has been documenting the human rights conditions in North Korea for 30 years and has always given it the lowest possible ratings. Now, this NGO seeks to organize a grassroots-level lobbying effort to convince governments to make human rights in North Korea a top negotiating priority. The activities that this NGO has undertaken in 2005 and 2006 can be found here.
L. Gordon Flake's paper, "The Experience of US NGOs in North Korea," is largely composed of selections from the book, Paved with Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea, referenced in the section on NGOs. In it, he says that, though the NGO involvement in North Korea is often thought of as a possible source of leverage against Kim Jong Il's regime, the experiences of the American NGOs there indicate otherwise. His April 28, 2004 testimony before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the House International Relations Committee outlines similar points.
James T. Laney's and Jason T. Shaplen's article, "How to Deal With North Korea," urges an approach through which major powers do "not reward the North for its misdeeds" but do guarantee the security of the Korean peninsula, thus removing the North's excuse for nuclear proliferation. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2003)
Phillip Saunders' article, "Confronting Ambiguity: How to Handle North Korea's Nuclear Program," criticizes the Bush administration's reliance on multilateral negotiations as a protection against being "blackmailed." Saunders explains the costs of this strategy and why it, instead, makes sense to explore a bilaterally negotiated deal. (Arms Control Today, March 2003)
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