The United Nations has been serving as an enabler of North Korea’s chemical program, according to an exclusive report by Fox News. “For more than a year,” Fox News reported, “a United Nations agency in Geneva has been helping North Korea prepare an international patent application for production of sodium cyanide – a chemical used to make the nerve gas Tabun – which has been on a list of materials banned from shipment to that country by the U.N. Security Council since 2006.”
The international patent application was filed on November 1, 2015 and published on December 15, 2016.
The international agency involved in this fiasco is the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which apparently neglected to mention the patent application to the appropriate UN bodies involved in monitoring North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs and compliance with UN Security Council sanctions resolutions.
The UN’s Panel of Experts on North Korea has claimed ignorance of the patent application, but will investigate. The question, however, is how WIPO could have conceivably let this fall between the cracks in the first place. The answer is rather straight-forward. WIPO, like so many other UN agencies, operates in a silo environment. It focuses solely on its own narrow mission, oblivious to the full implications of what it is doing. References to Pyongyang and sodium cyanide in the same patent application should have set off alarm bells. But instead it was business as usual. North Korea was just another UN member state client of WIPO, which needed technical assistance. Never mind what North Korea would do with the chemical it intended to produce, which is a precursor to a sanctioned nerve agent.
This is not the first time that WIPO has assisted North Korea. Fox News, for example, reminded us of its 2012 report “that WIPO had shipped U.S.-made computers and sophisticated computer servers to North Korea, and also to Iran, without informing sanctions committee officials.” WIPO commissioned an independent investigation into what had happened, which concluded that WIPO had acted improperly. WIPO has evidently not cleaned up its act, even reportedly claiming that UN Security Council sanctions that the member states are supposed to comply with do not apply to international organizations such as WIPO.
WIPO’s leadership has sought to retaliate against whistle blowers, including one who exposed the dual use technology transfers to North Korea, and to threaten journalists with legal action for critically reporting on the agency. Drummed up defamation actions against such journalists appear to be continuing to this day, according to a report by Inner City Press.
Moreover, WIPO is not the only UN agency found to have helped North Korea illicitly. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) had previously involved itself in the transfer of hard currency and dual-use technology to North Korea. A 2008 report by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs concluded that the North Korean government had used its relationship with the United Nations Development Program to execute deceptive financial transactions. The UN agency also reportedly transferred UN funds to a company with ties to an entity involved in North Korean weapons activity.
While it was at it, UNDP also aided Iran to obtain potential dual-use technology prior to the completion of the nuclear deal and the lifting of some sanctions. For example, UNDP, along with the World Health Organization and UNESCO, have partnered with the Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology (IROST). According to Iran Watch, the Japanese government has called IROST an “entity of concern” for biological, chemical and nuclear weapon proliferation. The British government claimed that IROST has procured goods and/or technology for weapons of mass destruction programs. UNDP also worked to strengthen Iran’s export, import and production capacities and ultimately to help its accession to the World Trade Organization, all while Iran was flouting successive UN Security Council resolutions. Indeed, just as was true in the case of its collaboration with the North Korean regime, UNDP’s extensive activities on the Iranian regime’s behalf, and the hard currency pumped into Iran’s economy by the UNDP and its affiliated UN agencies, operated at cross-purposes with the efforts back then by the UN Security Council and Western democracies to isolate Iran from the international financial community.
Out-of-control UN agencies, which believe they are above the sanctions rules imposed by the Security Council and by the United States government in dealing with the likes of North Korea or Iran, should either be drastically reformed or defunded.
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