DPRK (North Korea)
Expected Council Action
In November, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), is due to brief Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee.
Key Recent Developments
Lucas last briefed Council members on 5 August. There was also a discussion on the DPRK during consultations on 20 August under “any other business”. On that occasion, Council members considered an 18 August letter from the DPRK, in which it reiterated its 21 July request for the Council to hold an urgent meeting on the US-Republic of Korea (ROK) joint military exercises, but did not grant the request.
The Sanctions Committee met on 3 September to consider the mid-term report from its Panel of Experts. In addition, the Committee discussed a 1 August update to the Panel’s 28 April incident report concerning the 26 March medium-range ballistic missile launches. The update covered the missile launches conducted in June and July and reiterated the Panel’s recommendation that the Committee designate the DPRK’s strategic rocket fire command and its head as subject to sanctions. Meanwhile, the DPRK reportedly fired three short-range missiles on 6 September.
On the Korean Peninsula, attempts to restart the political dialogue between the DPRK and the ROK progressed slowly. On 4 October, officials from the two countries agreed to resume high-level talks later that month or in November. (The last such talks, and the first in seven years, were held on 12 February.) On 7 October, however, the two countries’ navies exchanged fire after a DPRK vessel crossed the Northern Limit Line, the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea. Furthermore, on 10 October, the DPRK opened fire near the demilitarised zone dividing the Korean Peninsula after activists in the ROK sent balloons across the border carrying propaganda leaflets. Top military officials from the two sides met on 15 October to discuss the incidents but apparently failed to narrow any differences. On 19 October, there was yet another exchange of gunfire within the demilitarised zone. In a later development, the DPRK rejected an ROK proposal to hold talks on 30 October, citing the ROK’s failure to prevent the continuation of leaflet launches.
There were reports about reviving the six-party talks that have been stalled since 2009—these talks focused on the DPRK’s nuclear programme and involve China, the DPRK, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US. On 1 October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting in Moscow with his DPRK counterpart that he saw a possibility for the talks to resume and on 2 October the DPRK Ambassador in Geneva, So Se-pyong, reiterated that his country was ready to restart the talks. The US Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks, Sydney Seiler, travelled to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo for consultations from 28 September to 1 October together with the US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Glyn Davies, and again from 27 October to 1 November.
International focus on the human rights situation in the DPRK intensified as the General Assembly’s Third Committee began negotiations on the annual resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK sponsored by Japan and the EU. The initial draft encouraged the Security Council to consider the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council, including referring the situation in the DPRK to the ICC and imposing targeted sanctions against those most responsible for crimes against humanity. (The Commission’s report was transmitted to the Council on 14 April by Australia, France and the US.)
Meanwhile, in a 15 September letter the DPRK submitted its own report on the human rights situation in the country. According to the letter, the report “reflects efforts…to lay bare the false nature of the reckless anti-DPRK ‘human rights’ racket kicked up by hostile forces”. The DPRK also proposed in the Third Committee an alternative to the draft resolution circulated by Japan and the EU that would exclude any reference to international justice mechanisms and instead call for dialogue and negotiations. On 27 October, in New York, DPRK officials for the first time met with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, and invited him to visit Pyongyang, but on the condition that any reference to the ICC would be dropped from the draft resolution under consideration in the Third Committee. In a briefing to the Third Committee on 28 October, Darusman welcomed the DPRK’s willingness to engage in a discussion on human rights and also said the change in attitude had perhaps been prompted by the increased attention resulting from the Commission of Inquiry report.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of the DPRK on 19 September, following the working group’s 2 July report (A/HRC/27/10). The DPRK for the first time accepted some of the report’s recommendations (113 out of 268). Speakers welcomed the DPRK’s engagement and acknowledged progress in the rights of persons with disabilities. They stressed, however, the importance of genuine cooperation with the international community to address the human rights situation and expressed grave concern that more than half of the recommendations were rejected, including calls to close political prison camps immediately, abolish the death penalty, prohibit the use of torture and ill-treatment, establish a system to prevent sexual violence against female prisoners and an end arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.
A key issue for the Council is how to respond to the DPRK’s continued flouting of all relevant resolutions, in particular its recent missile launches.
A further key issue is the DPRK’s continued refusal to engage in any sustained dialogue with the international community.
An additional issue is whether the Council should address the human rights situation in the DPRK.
At the Sanctions Committee-level, a key issue is the overall effective implementation of the sanctions regime. A key procedural issue is whether to update the Committee guidelines, which have not been revised since first agreed on 20 June 2007. (At press time, the chair had indicated that a proposal for revised guidelines would soon be circulated.)
With regard to the upcoming chair’s briefing, Council members could reiterate their support for the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry while emphasising the link between the DPRK’s proliferation activities and its human rights violations. They could also indicate that they would welcome regular briefings by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the DPRK.
In the Sanctions Committee, Council members could agree to the new sanctions listings recommended by the Panel of Experts. Alternatively, the Committee could send a letter to the DPRK with the updated incident report and request a written response. A further option would be to revise the guidelines.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The discussions in the Sanctions Committee on how to respond to the DPRK’s rocket launches have followed traditional dividing lines between those calling for a strong response such as additional sanctions designations, including the US and like-minded countries, and more cautious members, such as China and Russia. China in particular continues to argue that any further Council action will only be counterproductive and aggravate tensions in the region while advocating for a resumption of the six-party talks. Russia appears sympathetic to the DPRK’s criticism of the US-ROK joint military exercises.
With regard to the human rights situation, at press time Council members seemed focused on the negotiations underway in the General Assembly. Members supporting further action seem to be hoping for a strong Third Committee resolution, including clear recommendations to the Council that can increase the pressure against the DPRK, and also against China, which would be expected to veto an ICC referral. While they welcome the DPRK’s apparent willingness to engage with the international community, they also stress that the regime in Pyongyang has to be judged by its actions and not by its words. In the past the resolution has traditionally been adopted by consensus, but it seems this year the sponsors have signalled a willingness to take it to a vote if necessary to achieve a strong outcome. (Final adoption of the resolution is expected in late November.)
The US is the Council penholder on the DPRK.
UN Documents on the DPRK
|Security Council Resolution|
|5 March 2014 S/RES/2141||extended until 5 April 2015 the Panel of Expert’s mandate and requested a mid-term report by 5 August.|
|Security Council Letters|
|15 September 2014 S/2014/668||was from the DPRK, transmitting its own human rights report.|
|18 August 2014 S/2014/604||was from the DPRK reiterating a 21 July request that the Council formally consider the US-ROK joint military exercises.|
|14 April 2014 S/2014/276||transmitted the Commission of Inquiry report to the Council.|
|Human Rights Council Document|
|2 July 2014 A/HRC/27/10||was the report of the working group on the Universal Periodic Review of the DPRK.|