March 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 February 2015
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is due to renew the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee.

The Committee is expected in March to continue its consideration of the Panel of Experts’ final report under resolution 2141.

Key Recent Developments

As in the past, the DPRK seemed to increase its hostile rhetoric in anticipation of the annual joint military exercises between the US and the Republic of Korea (ROK) that are scheduled to begin in early March.   

On 25 January, the DPRK National Defence Commission said in a statement transmitted to the Security Council that “even a basic climate for dialogue” with the ROK had not been created. Referring to the planned military exercises, the statement accused the ROK of “souring the atmosphere for the improvement of relations with sabre rattling” and warned of “stern punishment”. At the same time, it called on the ROK to respond sincerely to the DPRK’s call for “the opening up of a broad avenue for independent reunification by concerted efforts”.

In a 4 February statement, also transmitted to the Council, the National Defence Commission turned its attention to the US, denouncing Washington’s “hostile policy”, including new sanctions imposed on 2 January in response to the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment and the joint US-ROK “war drills”. Referring also to a 22 January YouTube interview with US President Barack Obama in which he said that a regime like the one in Pyongyang “would eventually collapse”, the statement said that the DPRK “has neither need nor willingness to sit at the negotiating table with the US any longer”.

On 8 February the DPRK test-fired a missile described as a new type of cutting-edge, anti-ship rocket. Pyongyang boasted that it was the most sophisticated rocket developed by the DPRK so far, but some observers said the missile appeared to be Russian. In a cautiously worded response, China called for “all relevant parties” to make efforts to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. 

Meanwhile, the US reiterated that it would be willing to restart negotiations with the DPRK based on credible indications that Pyongyang would abide by its past commitment to denuclearisation. 

Sanctions-Related Developments

The Sanctions Committee met on 11 February to discuss the Panel of Experts’ final report. The report concludes that violations of the sanctions regime have continued, with no sign of any change in the DPRK’s behaviour that would indicate greater willingness to engage with the international community on the nuclear issue. A major part of the report apparently focuses on the activities of the Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM), which was designated by the Sanctions Committee on 28 July 2014 for its involvement in the Chong Chon Gang case. (OMM played a key role in arranging the shipment of arms from Cuba to the DPRK on board the Chong Chon Gang in July 2013.) The report documents how the OMM has been able to evade sanctions by changing the registration and ownership of vessels controlled by the company and makes several recommendations aimed at better targeting OMM’s activities, including updating the sanctions listing to include aliases and revising the Implementation Assistance Notice on the Chong Chon Gang case to clarify implementation of the asset freeze. The Panel also suggests additional listings and makes a number of recommendations directed at member states.

On 26 February, the new chair of the Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), briefed Council members in consultations on its work. At press time, the meeting was still ongoing, but he was expected to talk about the three Committee meetings that were held during the reporting period, recent activities of the Panel of Experts and an exchange of letters with the ICRC regarding an exemption request related to a demining project in the DPRK.

Human Rights-Related Developments

With regard to the human rights situation, the DPRK noted in a 2 February joint letter to the Council and the General Assembly that Shin Dong-hyok, one of the witnesses for the Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in the DPRK, had retracted parts of his testimony and that the resolution on the DPRK adopted by the General Assembly was therefore “based on falsehood from A to Z”. The letter went on to say that all member states should be informed that the resolution was “unlawful” and called on the EU and Japan, which drafted it, to apologise.  

On 16 February, at a press conference organised by the DPRK permanent mission to the UN, the DPRK said it had asked the US State Department to cancel a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Commission of Inquiry report but that the request had been denied. (The State Department noted that the conference was a privately organised event.) The DPRK also said it was not worried about a referral to the ICC since it was not guilty of any crimes.

The Human Rights Council will consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, during its 28th session in March. The report is expected to focus on abductions and enforced disappearances. The DPRK announced on 21 February that its foreign minister would attend the session.

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is the DPRK’s continued flouting of all relevant resolutions and its stated rejection of any dialogue aimed at denuclearisation.       

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 considering the implementation of the Panel of Experts’ recommendations.

Options

One option for the Council would be to issue a statement following the Committee chair’s briefing, welcoming the Panel of Experts’ report, condemning the DPRK’s missile launches and other violations and calling on Pyongyang to demonstrate commitment to the dismantling of its nuclear program and return to the six-party talks involving China, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US.

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

At the 11 February Sanctions Committee meeting, Council members had an initial exchange of views on the Panel of Experts’ report. Comments were fairly general, however, with most members welcoming the report and praising the Panel’s work. Overall, statements reflected traditional dividing lines between China and others advocating in favour of a cautious approach versus the P3 and like-minded countries that are supportive of measures aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the sanctions regime. A more detailed discussion of the report’s recommendations is expected at the next Committee meeting in March.

With regard to the latest signals from Pyongyang, most Council members see little reason for optimism and point to the Panel’s conclusion that it had seen no change in the DPRK’s behaviour.  

While there are no plans for any immediate follow-up action in the Council on its 22 December 2014 meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK, it appears that some Council members have started to engage in very preliminary discussions on possible next steps. Discussions focus on both the format and timing of any follow-up. It seems generally agreed that the timing will depend on whether there are any new developments or new information that merit the Council’s attention. In this regard, the new field-based office that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is setting up in Seoul to continue monitoring the human rights situation in the DPRK as mandated by the Human Rights Council is seen as a welcome development.   

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

UN Documents 

Security Council Resolution
5 March 2014 S/RES/2141 This resolution extended until 5 April 2015 the Panel of Experts’ mandate.  
Security Council Meeting Record
22 December 2014 S/PV.7353

This was a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.

Security Council Letters
4 February 2015 S/2015/90 This was a letter from the DPRK transmitting the National Defence Commission Statement on the US.
2 February 2015 S/2015/84 This was a letter from the DPRK denouncing the Commission of Inquiry report.
27 January 2015 S/2015/64 This was a letter from the DPRK transmitting the National Defence Commission statement on the ROK.