WIPO Announces New Policy On Assistance To North Korea, Iran

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The World Intellectual Property Organization today announced a new policy for dealing with countries sanctioned under the United Nations and has discontinued the provision of computer hardware to countries such as North Korea and Iran. It said its past assistance is being reviewed by relevant UN sanctions committees, but that it believes it was not in violation.

In a press release, the agency denied any violation of UN sanctions, but said it was taking new steps to demonstrate its seriousness.

“While the legal advice received with respect to the technical assistance provided to DPRK and Iran was that the technical assistance was not in breach of UN Sanctions,” it said, “it is hoped that the measures outlined above will provide assurance that the Organization is treating this matter with the seriousness that it warrants.”

WIPO issued a press statement from the director general on the question of the UN agency’s provision of technical assistance, including information technology, to the UN-sanctioned countries of North Korea and Iran.

WIPO said it established new internal procedures for providing assistance to sanctioned countries as of 1 May. It also acknowledged that its provision of standard IT equipment is being referred to UN sanctions committees.

Under the new procedures, “all managers must refer any activity proposed in a country subject to UN sanctions to WIPO’s Legal Counsel for guidance and clearance,” it said. “The Legal Counsel will, wherever necessary, consult the appropriate UN Sanctions Committee.”

In addition, any work plan for a sanctioned country will be submitted at the start of each calendar year for guidance by the appropriate Sanctions Committee.

The agency also said it has begun steps for “a full external and independent review of the technical assistance provided to countries subject to UN sanctions.”

And it issued a new internal instruction “ending any provision of IT hardware in any of WIPO’s technical assistance programs.”

WIPO said it was responding to media reports and requests for information by member states. The issue has become somewhat politicised in the United States in an election year, as conservatives critical of the UN have jumped on the issue.

This week the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee called for an investigation (see Bloomberg story here). According to an updated version of the story, a letter from the committee chair was sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 12 July calling on the United States to freeze contributions to WIPO pending an investigation.

The letter to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, is available here [pdf].

WIPO said in its release: “[T]he Secretariat is treating concerns relating to the Organization’s technical assistance programs to countries that are the subject of UN sanctions with the utmost seriousness.”

The WIPO statement is available here.

The statement said the director general “reiterates his commitment to transparency and re-affirms the readiness of the Secretariat to continue to provide any information requested by any of the member states of the Organization.”

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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