Members of the United Nations Security Council vote to tighten sanctions on North Korea at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, March 7, 2013.
FILE - Members of the United Nations Security Council vote to tighten sanctions on North Korea at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, March 7, 2013.

GENEVA - A new report finds sanctions imposed on North Korea are failing to advance denuclearization prospects on the Korean Peninsula, while causing immense suffering to the civilian population. An international, multi-disciplinary panel of independent experts compiled the report. The report is the first comprehensive assessment of the human impact of sanctions against North Korea.

The United Nations strengthened economic sanctions against North Korea in 2016 with the aim of bringing Pyongyang to the nuclear negotiating table with Washington. This tactic, however, has not worked. The talks remain deadlocked.

While targeted sanctions against North Korea’s elite are ineffective, authors of the report say evidence shows they are having a devastating impact on the general population, especially women and children. They say sanctions are adversely affecting humanitarian aid and economic development in the country.

They cite U.N. agencies that report 40 percent of North Korea’s population is going hungry and in desperate need of assistance, six out of 10 people do not have access to safe drinking water and malnutrition among children is increasing.  

Christine Ahn is founder of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women to end the Korean War. She says the sanctions are barring the import of essential items, including medical equipment, agricultural material essential for food production, and components for water and sanitation programs.  

She says authors of the report warn the lack of these goods threaten the lives of the most vulnerable people in North Korea.

“They assess that nearly 4,000 people died in 2018 as a result of the delays caused by the sanctions of materials and aid coming into North Korea, as well as the funding shortfalls," said Ahn.

Last year, U.N. agencies were able to raise only 21 percent of the $111 million they needed for urgent humanitarian programs, leaving a funding gap of $87 million.  

No progress has been made in nuclear negotiations since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a historic first face-to-face meeting in Singapore last year and signed a declaration promising to transform their relations. Ahn tells VOA the U.S. could advance this goal by partially lifting the sanctions that are hurting the civilian population. 

“This is something that the United States can do.  It would not do anything to cost anything to U.S. taxpayers, said Ahn. "And I think it would go a long way to improving the basic security of the North Korean people and it could be a very concrete step toward advancing the step-by-step approach that ultimately will lead to denuclearization and a peace agreement.”

Trump and Kim met a second time earlier this year in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those talks, however, ended with no agreement.

Ahn says it would be wise to involve women in the U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks. She says research shows when women are engaged in a peace process, their participation actually leads to a peace agreement and one that is more likely to be durable.