American Religious NGOs in North Korea: A Paradoxical Relationship

| November 2007
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The North Korean famine of the mid-1990s posed challenging ethical and humanitarian dilemmas for foreign aid workers who responded to the crisis. It also yielded a paradox: Despite the antipathy of the North Korean system to outside religious influence (revealed most clearly by the harsh treatment of North Korean refugees who had contact with churches or Christians while in China and were subsequently captured and returned to the North), it is primarily American NGOs with financial backing from religious organizations that have maintained development and exchange programs with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The relationship between DPRK authorities and American religiously funded NGOs has continued despite recovery from the famine and the advent of an international diplomatic crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. Other NGO programs have largely dried up with the easing of the food crisis and the end of U.S. government humanitarian assistance to American NGOs working in the DPRK. In examining these religiously funded NGOs, this article will attempt to explore the motivations and measures for their success, the criteria under which they operate, and the nature of their interactions with the DPRK government on monitoring and transparency issues.

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Category: Essay, Issue 21.4

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