May 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 May 2014
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DPRK (North Korea)

In May, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), is scheduled to brief Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee. Her last 90-day briefing was on 20 February. 

Key Recent Developments

On 5 March, the Council adopted resolution 2141, which extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts (PoE) assisting the Sanctions Committee until 5 April 2015 and requested a mid-term report to the Committee by 5 August and a final report by 5 February 2015. In a 4 April letter, the Secretary-General informed the Council that he had appointed the eight members of the PoE, six of whom served under the previous mandate (S/2014/248).

Meanwhile, tensions on the Korean Peninsula increased. In February and March, and coinciding with the annual US and Republic of Korea (ROK) joint military exercises, the DPRK conducted a series of short-range rocket launches. Then on 26 March, it launched two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles over the East Sea, the first medium-range launches since 4 July 2009.

During informal consultations on 27 March, Council members discussed the 26 March incident and were briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. Following the consultations, Ambassador Lucas said in agreed “elements to the press” that Council members condemned the missile launches as a violation of resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087 and 2094 and would consult on an appropriate response.

In reply, the DPRK said in a 31 March letter that the condemnation was “absolutely intolerable” and reiterated its rejection of all Council resolutions adopted against it (S/2014/237). In the same letter, the DPRK also rejected the Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution of 28 March endorsing the report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK, referring to the commission as a group of “political swindlers, marionettes of the US and the West” and stating that it “totally opposes and rejects” the resolution. (The HRC recommended that the General Assembly submit the commission’s report to the Security Council for appropriate action, including consideration of a referral of the situation in the DPRK to “the appropriate international criminal justice mechanism”, and consideration of the scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity). The DPRK also sent letters to the Council on 7 March defending its short-range rocket launches (S/2014/159) and on 15 March denouncing the “hostile policy” of the US (S/2014/194). 

On 22 April, the ROK defence ministry reported increased activity at the DPRK’s nuclear test site in Punggye-ri and warned that Pyongyang might be planning another surprise nuclear test.  On 29 April, the DPRK conducted a live-fire drill near the Northern Limit Line, the disputed maritime border with the ROK. This followed a similar drill on 31 March when some rounds landed south of the border, resulting in a live-fire exchange with the ROK.

The DPRK on 9 March held elections for the Supreme People’s Assembly. (Such elections are normally held every five years.) There was only one candidate on the ballot for each of the 687 districts, and they were all elected with 100 percent of the votes.

On 17 April, Australia, France and the US convened an “Arria-formula” meeting with the members of the commission of inquiry, Michael Kirby (chair, Australia), Sonja Biserko (Serbia) and Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia). Kirby briefed on the findings and recommendations of the commission’s final report. (In a 14 April letter, the three organisers of the meeting transmitted the report to the Council President [S/2014/276]). Speaking to the press afterwards, Kirby said that seven Council members had expressly supported a Council referral of the situation in the DPRK to the ICC, but noted with regret the absence of China and Russia. He repeatedly emphasised that it was difficult to imagine a stronger case than the DPRK for a referral to the ICC.   

The 1718 Sanctions Committee met on 10 April and discussed the 26 March rocket launches. (At press time, members had just received the PoE’s incident report on the case.) The Committee also continued to discuss how to respond to the Chong Chon Gang case. (Chong Chon Gang was the DPRK-flagged ship detained by Panama on 15 July 2013 on its way from Cuba with weapons and military equipment hidden in a cargo of sugar. The PoE concluded that the case constituted a sanctions violation.) While no agreement was reached, some progress has apparently been made in drafting the implementation assistance notice (IAN) proposed by the US as part of a possible response involving also additional designations. A proposal to organise another open briefing for member states met with no objections. 

On 8 April, the chair of the Committee sent a letter to the Council President transmitting updates to the lists of banned nuclear and ballistic missile-related items as requested by resolution 2094 (S/2014/253). The letter also contained one update to the list of individuals and entities subject to targeted sanctions.

Human Rights-Related Developments

Following a 17 March HRC interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry, the HRC adopted a resolution on 28 March (A/HRC/RES/25/25) welcoming the commission’s report (A/HRC/25/63 and A/HRC/25/CRP.1) and condemning in the strongest terms the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations committed in the country. The resolution also extended for another year the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, and requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide him with increased support, including the establishment of a field-based structure. Of the 47 HRC members, six voted against the resolution, including China and Russia, and 11 others abstained.


Darusman visited Tokyo on 8-10 April as an immediate follow-up to the work of the commission and its recommendation that the Special Rapporteur develop a strategy to urgently address the issue of international abductions, enforced disappearances and related matters. During his visit, Japan informed Darusman that in addition to the 19 confirmed Japanese abduction victims, there were some 860 missing persons that the authorities could not rule out had also been abducted by the DPRK.

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is the DPRK’s continued flouting of all relevant resolutions.

A related issue is whether to take any action in response to the DPRK’s most recent sanctions violations, whether at the Council level or in the Sanctions Committee.

A further issue for the Council is whether to formally consider the report of the commission of inquiry.


Options for the Council include:

  • referring the situation in the DPRK to the ICC;
  • expanding the sanctions regime to target human rights violations, as also recommended by the commission of inquiry;
  • requesting briefings on the human rights situation in the DPRK, either on an ad hoc basis, or by expanding the agenda item under which the DPRK is considered;
  • adopting a presidential statement condemning recent sanctions violations committed by the DPRK;
  • taking action in the Sanctions Committee in response to the Chong Chon Gong case as proposed by the US, including issuing an IAN and making additional designations; and
  • convening another Committee open briefing for UN member states. 
Council Dynamics

Following the 26 March missile launches, the US pushed for the adoption of a presidential statement to condemn the DPRK’s actions, but this seems to have been put aside for now, with China having assured the US it will use its leverage to try to de-escalate the situation.  

With regard to the Council’s possibly addressing the human rights situation in the DPRK, there seems to be widespread support among Council members for the recommendations of the commission of inquiry, as demonstrated at the Arria-formula meeting. Of the 13 Council members that participated, Australia, Chile, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the UK expressly supported an ICC referral. The US said it would consider it while Rwanda said other mechanisms for ensuring accountability should also be explored, such as an ad hoc tribunal. Some members also expressed support for imposing targeted sanctions against human rights violators. The ROK did not specifically mention the ICC but expressed support for all of the commission’s recommendations. Argentina made no reference to the ICC, and Chad and Nigeria did not take the floor.

A few members also suggested that the Council could request regular briefings on the DPRK by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or expand the scope of the agenda item under which the DPRK is considered to deal with the situation in a comprehensive way that would include all relevant issues. (Such decisions would be procedural, meaning they would not be subject to the veto of permanent members.)

Despite the support expressed at the Arria-formula meeting, it remains to be seen how much appetite there is among Council members to push for any formal Council action in the face of expected strong opposition from China and perhaps Russia. There are also concerns as to how a confrontation with China on human rights might impact ongoing efforts to secure its support on the non-proliferation file. At this stage, Council members therefore seem keen to play down expectations of any near-term follow-up action relating to the commission’s report.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK in the Council.

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UN Documents on the DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
5 March 2014 S/RES/2141 extended until 5 April 2015 the PoE’s mandate.  
7 March 2013 S/RES/2094 tightened sanctions against the DPRK in response to the 12 February 2013 nuclear test.
14 April 2014 S/2014/276 was the letter to the Council from Australia, France and the US transmitting the report of the commission of inquiry.
4 April 2014 S/2014/248 was the letter from the Secretary-General concerning the appointment of the PoE.
31 March 2014 S/2014/237 was the letter from the DPRK regarding the 26 March “self-defensive rocket launch exercises” and the HRC resolution of 28 March.
26 March 2014 A/HRC/25/L.17 was the draft HRC resolution on the DPRK.   
15 March 2014 S/2014/194 was the letter from the DPRK denouncing the US.
7 March 2014 S/2014/159 was the letter from the DPRK defending its short-range rocket launches.
7 February 2014 A/HRC/25/63 was the report of the commission of inquiry.   

Additional Useful Resources

United Nations Sanctions on Iran and North Korea: An Implementation Manual, Enrico Carisch and Loraine Rickard-Martin, International Peace Institute, March 2014

Sanctions Implementation and the UN Security Council: The Case for Greater Transparency, SCR/International Peace Institute, March 2014

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