DPRK (North Korea)
Expected Council Action
In November, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), is due to brief Security Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee.
Key Recent Developments
In August, tensions increased between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) following an incident on 4 August in which two ROK soldiers were seriously injured by landmines in the demilitarised zone separating the two countries. In an 18 August letter to the Security Council, the ROK alleged that the DPRK had planted the mines recently. The DPRK, however, said in a letter to the Council on 21 August that the incident was “totally fabricated”. It also sent three other letters to the Council in August protesting the ROK-US joint military exercises held from 17 to 28 August and reiterating its request for the exercises to be placed on the Council’s agenda in accordance with articles 34 and 35 of the UN Charter. Tensions seemed to ease somewhat, however, following talks between the DPRK and the ROK from 23 to 25 August, which led to an agreement to resume family reunions in October.
On 10 October, the DPRK marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea with a large military parade and other celebratory events. According to media reports, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un said in a speech that his country was ready to respond “to any kind of war the American imperialists want”. There had been concerns that the DPRK would use the occasion to conduct another long-range missile launch following announcements by Pyongyang in September that it was preparing to send a satellite into orbit. When this did not happen, some observers suggested technical issues had caused delays, but international pressure was also seen as a factor. The only high-level foreign official present at the military parade was a Chinese communist party leader.
Following a meeting on 16 October in Washington, DC between US President Barack Obama and ROK President Park Geun-hye, Obama reiterated that the US was open to negotiating the easing of sanctions with the DPRK if the latter showed willingness to discuss the dismantling of its nuclear capabilities. But he added that he had seen no signs of such willingness. The DPRK confirmed in a statement on 17 October that it was not interested in nuclear talks; it wanted instead to negotiate a peace treaty with the US.
At a 7 October event organised by the Atlantic Council, a US think tank, Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the US believed that the DPRK had the ability to miniaturise a nuclear weapon and put it on a missile that could reach the US. On 20 October, the ROK national intelligence service apparently said at a briefing to ROK parliamentarians that the DPRK was preparing for a nuclear test, although it was not imminent. The intelligence service seemingly did not believe, however, that the DPRK was able to miniaturise a nuclear weapon.
The family reunions agreed in August went ahead as planned from 20 to 26 October, with some 640 individuals participating from the ROK side and an unknown number from the DPRK. The last such reunions were held in February 2014. As the reunions were coming to a close, the ROK fired warning shots at a DPRK patrol boat that crossed the disputed maritime border between the two countries, referred to as the northern limit line. The DPRK said the boat was on a routine patrol and characterised the shots as a deliberate provocation.
At press time, China, Japan and the ROK were scheduled to hold a trilateral summit meeting in Seoul on 1 November, with the DPRK nuclear issue expected to be on the agenda. It would be the first such meeting since 2013.
The Sanctions Committee last met on 4 September to consider its Panel of Experts’ midterm report, which mostly dealt with investigations of older cases. (Unlike the final reports, the midterm reports are normally not made public.) Also, at the time of writing, it seems the Committee had just agreed on a letter to the ICRC confirming that a demining project in the DPRK would not violate any of the sanctions provisions, while a similar letter to UNIDO was under silence.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, visited Seoul from 6 to 10 September. In a 9 September statement, he welcomed the positive developments with regard to family reunions and noted that unification was paramount, while also emphasising that it was time to consider concrete measures that could be taken to ensure accountability for the crimes documented in the February 2014 Commission of Inquiry’s report and to set up a broader process of transitional justice. He said that during the visit his attention was repeatedly drawn to the issue of DPRK nationals who were subjected to forced labour by their government; the situation of women; and alleged abductions of ROK and other nationals, including cases of detention, by the DPRK. Darusman is scheduled to visit the ROK again in late November and will present a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2016.
At press time, Darusman was scheduled to brief the General Assembly’s Third Committee on 29 October on his report on the human rights situation in the DPRK. The report, which was submitted in accordance with last year’s General Assembly resolution on the DPRK, calls for the Security Council to hold regular briefings on the situation in the DPRK with the participation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other relevant experts, including the special rapporteur, and also reiterates the recommendation for the Council to refer the situation to the ICC.
A key issue for the Council is the DPRK’s continued flouting of all relevant Council resolutions and its apparent rejection of any dialogue aimed at denuclearisation.
An additional issue is what kind of action the Council should consider on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
At the Sanctions Committee level, a key issue remains whether to implement any of the Panel of Experts’ latest recommendations.
For the Committee, the main option is to implement the Panel of Experts’ recommendations, which include designating additional individuals and entities and issuing additional guidance to member states.
Another option is for the Committee chair to convene an open briefing for UN member states, as it is now more than a year since the last such briefing in July 2014.
With regard to the human rights situation, one possible option for the Council is to organise a briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special rapporteur.
Council and Wider Dynamics
There seems to have been little progress in the Sanctions Committee on the Panel of Experts’ recommendations. Discussions have focused on those related to the Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM), which China at the outset appeared open to consider. (The Committee designated OMM as subject to sanctions in July 2014 for its involvement in the Chong Chon Gang case. The Panel has proposed additional measures to better target OMM’s activities.) However, China and Russia have so far been reluctant to move forward on any of the recommendations. In particular, it seems China argued ahead of the 10 October anniversary that the Committee must avoid any action that could provoke Pyongyang.
Beyond the Council, China is continuing to push for the resumption of the six-party talks involving also the DPRK, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US, and hosted an international seminar on 19 September commemorating the tenth anniversary of the September 2005 joint statement of the six parties. (In this statement, the DPRK promised to abandon its nuclear program and return to the Non-proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards.) Speaking at the seminar, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said that China believed the joint statement should be “reactivated” as soon as possible to pave the way for the resumption of the talks. He also said that “the tremendous military pressure” the DPRK had faced over the years must be taken seriously and its legitimate security concerns be addressed. He added that it was essential to conclude a peace treaty “among parties concerned” to replace the Korean Peninsula armistice, thus lending support to one of the DPRK’s principal demands. This view was echoed by the Russian ambassador in Seoul in a 22 October interview with a major ROK news agency.
With regard to the human rights situation, momentum appears to be building for the Council to hold a meeting as a follow-up to the December 2014 briefing when this issue was first discussed as a separate Council agenda item. It seems the US is expected to propose a briefing during its presidency in December, possibly with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special rapporteur.
The US is the penholder on the DPRK.
|Security Council Letters|
|21 August 2015 S/2015/658||
was the DPRK’s response to the ROK’s 18 August letter on the landmine incident.
|19 August 2015 S/2015/650||was another DPRK letter on the joint ROK-US military exercises.|
|18 August 2015 S/2015/642||was the ROK letter on the landmine incident.|
|17 August 2015 S/2015/638||was another DPRK letter on the joint ROK-US military exercises.|
|14 August 2015 S/2015/637||was a DPRK letter on the joint ROK-US military exercises.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|22 December 2014 S/PV.7353||was the first ever Council briefing on the human rights situation in the DPRK.|
|8 September 2015 A/70/362||was the report to the General Assembly of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.|
|7 February 2014 A/HRC/25/63||was the Commission of Inquiry report on the DPRK.|
Useful Additional Resource
Nuclear North Korea: How Will It Behave? US-Korea Institute at SAIS, October 2015