February 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 January 2015
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In February, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), is due to brief Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee.

Also in February, the Sanctions Committee is expected to have a meeting to discuss the final report from its Panel of Experts, submitted on 19 January in accordance with resolution 2141.

Key Recent Developments

On 22 December 2014, the Council for the first time held a meeting on the situation in the DPRK as an agenda item separate from the non-proliferation issue. The meeting was scheduled at the request of Australia, Chile, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, the UK and the US. In a 5 December letter to the Council, those countries expressed concern about the gravity of human rights violations described in the report by the Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council (S/2014/276) and the impact on the stability of the region and the maintenance of international peace and security. They therefore asked that the situation in the DPRK “be formally placed on the Council’s agenda without prejudice to the item on non-proliferation” and also requested a meeting to be briefed on the situation.  

There was a procedural vote at the start of the meeting to adopt the agenda following an objection by China that the Council was not mandated to consider human rights issues and that the inclusion of the proposed item on the Council’s agenda would do more harm than good. Russia joined China in voting against, while Chad and Nigeria abstained. Argentina voted in favour, along with the ten Council members that requested the meeting. (It was the first procedural vote in the Council since 15 September 2006, when the Council decided to add the situation in Myanmar to its agenda [S/PV.5526]. Procedural decisions cannot be vetoed.) Following the vote, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun and Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and for Human Rights, respectively, were invited to brief the Council. A majority of Council members said the Council should consider the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation to refer the situation in the DPRK to the ICC, and some expressed support for the imposition of targeted sanctions against those found to be most responsible for crimes against humanity. Several members also stressed the importance of the Council’s receiving regular updates on the human rights situation.

As for the DPRK, it has reacted angrily to the increased international scrutiny of its human rights record. On 24 and 28 November 2014, it wrote to the Council to protest the adoption by the General Assembly’s Third Committee on 18 November 2014 of a resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK, which called on the Council to consider the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations. In a 15 December 2014 letter, the DPRK denounced the US in particular for “scheming once again to abuse the United Nations Security Council” to implement “its hostile policy” and warned that its actions would certainly bring “serious consequences”.  

The DPRK continued to send mixed signals about the prospects for high-level talks with the Republic of Korea (ROK). On 1 January, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un seemed to signal openness to resuming the talks but apparently noted that this would require suspending the joint ROK-US military exercises and stopping the distribution of propaganda leaflets from the ROK into the DPRK. On 23 January, DPRK officials said that before the resumption of any dialogue, Seoul would have to remove the sanctions it imposed in response to the 24 May 2010 torpedo attack against a South Korean naval ship that killed 46 men. Meanwhile, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on 12 January that she was willing to hold a summit meeting with Kim without any pre-conditions.

In a separate development, the DPRK announced on 10 January that it had told the US it would be willing to impose a temporary moratorium on nuclear tests if Washington cancelled the joint military exercises with the ROK. The US immediately dismissed the proposal and called on the DPRK “to take the necessary steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations.”

The Sanctions Committee has met twice since the chair last briefed Council members on 10 November 2014. A meeting on 11 December 2014 provided an opportunity for the outgoing chair to share concluding remarks on the work of the Committee. On 28 January, the Committee was briefed on the Panel of Experts final report by the panel coordinator, Hugh Griffiths (UK). (In a first, the announcement about the meeting in the UN Journal included the agenda. At press time, the meeting was still underway.)

On 31 December 2014, the Committee issued its annual report and posted updated guidelines on its website. The guidelines include a new provision imposing a time limit of nine months on any holds placed by Committee members to consider a proposal. (Such a provision exists in many other sanctions committees.)

On 2 January, the US announced the imposition of additional targeted sanctions against three DPRK entities and ten officials in response to the 24 November 2014 cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The DPRK has denied any involvement in the attack.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, visited Tokyo from 19 to 23 January, to be apprised of the latest developments in the stalled dialogue between Japan and the DPRK relating to the abduction of Japanese nationals. On 23 January, Darusman said he had been informed that the Japanese national police agency was looking into 881 possible DPRK-related abduction cases. He announced the preparation of a comprehensive strategy to resolve the problem of state-sponsored international abductions and enforced disappearances committed by the DPRK, to be presented to the Human Rights Council’s in March. He also commended the readiness expressed by Japanese officials to collaborate with the field-based structure soon to be established in Seoul by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow up on the work of the Commission of Inquiry. Since his appointment in 2010, Darusman has made several requests to visit the DPRK; however, access has so far not been granted and he has instead visited other countries in the region such as Japan, Thailand and the ROK.

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is the DPRK’s continued flouting of all relevant resolutions and the absence of any constructive engagement with the international community.     

An additional issue is what kind of follow-up action the Council should consider on the human rights situation in the DPRK.

At the Sanctions Committee-level, a key issue is whether to implement any of the Panel of Experts’ recommendations.

Options

With regard to the Committee chair’s briefing, the Council could decide to change the format to a public meeting to increase transparency. (The briefings by the chair of the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee are public, and recently there has been a trend in other sanctions committees towards more public briefings as opposed to briefings in consultations.)

For the Committee, the main option is to continue its consideration of the Panel’s report and implementation of relevant recommendations.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The arrival of five new elected members is not expected to significantly alter Council dynamics on the DPRK, which tend to be dominated by China and the US. Venezuela is expected to be firmly aligned with China. Both Malaysia and New Zealand will likely be among the Council’s more active members on issues related to the DPRK due to their regional interests, although their priorities can be expected to differ. Malaysia, which is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, has relatively close relations with Pyongyang and may share China’s views on the need for a cautious approach.

It is unclear whether recent signs that Russia is seeking closer ties with Pyongyang may impact wider dynamics. On 28 January, Russia said it had received a positive response to an invitation for Kim to attend the celebration of the Soviet Union Second World War victory over Nazi Germany to be held on 9 May in Moscow. It would be Kim’s first foreign visit since he came to power in 2011.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

UN Documents  

Security Council Resolution
5 March 2014 S/RES/2141 extended until 5 April 2015 the Panel of Experts’ mandate.
Security Council Meeting Record
22 December 2014 S/PV.7353 was the meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.  
Security Council Letters
17 December 2014 S/2014/920 was the annual report on the work of the Sanctions Committee.
15 December 2014 S/2014/896 was a letter from the DPRK opposing the 5 December request.
5 December 2014 S/2014/872 was the letter from ten Council members requesting that the situation in the DPRK be formally placed on the Council’s agenda.  
28 November 2014 S/2014/855 was a letter from the DPRK transmitting a report from the Association for Human Rights Studies of the DPRK denouncing the 18 November Third Committee resolution.
24 November 2014 S/2014/849 was the DPRK’s initial response to the 18 November Third Committee resolution adoption.
General Assembly Document
18 December 2014 A/RES/69/188 was the resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK.