Amnesty International’s latest report on North Korea describes the country’s health care system as “dire” and “in shambles.”
But the director of the World Health Organization recently described it “as the envy of the developing world.”
Who’s right about health care in North Korea?
This question — and the entire kerfuffle about health care in North Korea — gets right to the heart of a major problem for international non-governmental organizations: how to conduct human rights research in a totalitarian state.
The WHO has access to North Korea while Amnesty does not, and the people who spoke to Amnesty’s researchers likely have information that is older than the most recent research conducted by the WHO. One would think, then, that Amnesty’s report is less likely to be reliable.
Except, of course, that the WHO might be seeing and hearing only what Pyongyang chooses for them to see and hear. And, of course, the WHO has to take care not to injure the feelings of the North Korean dictator, who “is highly sensitive to outside criticism.”
Asked Friday what countries were envious of North Korea’s health, Chaib said she couldn’t name any. But she highlighted the importance of maintaining the health body’s presence in the country, where officials do their best to save lives despite “persisting challenges.”
While this seems to suggest that the Amnesty report might not be as flawed as the WHO would have us believe, it’s clearly not as simple as that:
The U.N. body claims that maternal mortality has declined by over 20 percent since 2005, and diarrhea cases and deaths in operations have also dropped. It says more than 6,000 doctors and nurses have been trained in emergency obstetric care, newborn care and child illnesses, while clinics have received better material for operations, blood transplants and other medical interventions.
Amnesty’s reports are often incredibly powerful because they use personal stories to highlight the human rights concerns in a particular country. But this is anecdotal evidence and shouldn’t be confused with hard data.
How to independently collect such data remains the difficult question for organizations like Amnesty International, one whose answer is likely to remain elusive as long as totalitarian governments restrict access to human rights monitors (which they have every interest in doing).
Full article here.
Amnesty’s report here.