February 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 January 2016
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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 Security Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee.  

In addition, it is possible that the Council will adopt a resolution in response to the DPRK’s 6 January nuclear test. 

Key Recent Developments

The DPRK announced on 6 January that it had conducted a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. The test was widely condemned, although the DPRK’s claim that it was a hydrogen bomb rather than a regular nuclear bomb was seen as implausible based on readings from seismic stations in the region. Council members were briefed on the incident by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav JenĨa during consultations that same day. In a subsequent press statement condemning the nuclear test, Council members recalled their determination, as expressed in resolution 2094, to take “further significant measures” in the event of another test and announced that they would immediately begin to work on a new resolution imposing such measures. 

Also on 6 January, the Republic of Korea (ROK) submitted a statement to the Council condemning the nuclear test and calling for additional sanctions measures, while noting that it would maintain “a high readiness posture” against any further provocations. It resumed its propaganda broadcasts by loud speakers across the border with the DPRK on 8 January. On 13 January, ROK President Park Geun-hye said her government would review the need for deployment of the US anti-ballistic missile system referred to as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in response to the increased threat. On 22 January, she suggested that the ROK would push for talks of five of the parties involved in the six-party talks, excluding the DPRK. (The other five are China, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US.) For its part, China on 22 January called for the early resumption of the six-party talks while reiterating that dialogue and negotiation were fundamental to resolving the nuclear issue. 

In an earlier development, the Council on 10 December 2015 held its second meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK. (The first meeting was on 22 December 2014, when the Council decided to add “the situation in the DPRK” to its agenda as a separate item from the non-proliferation issue, in response to the findings of the February 2014 report of the Human Rights Council commission of inquiry.) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed. The US, as president of the Council, convened the meeting in response to a joint request from Chile, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, the UK and the US itself, presented in a 3 December letter.

As was the case in 2014, China at the start of the meeting asked for a procedural vote on the provisional agenda, after expressing its opposition to intervention by the Council in issues concerning the human rights situation in any country and stressing that the situation in the DPRK did not constitute a threat to international peace and security. Angola, Russia, and Venezuela joined China in voting against the agenda. Chad and Nigeria abstained, while the remaining nine members, who had requested the meeting, voted in favour. (In a procedural vote the veto does not apply and a decision can be made with just nine affirmative votes.)  

Sanctions-Related Developments

The Sanctions Committee last met on 18 December 2015 to continue its consideration of the recommendations in the Panel of Experts’ February 2015 final report as well as the Panel’s August 2015 midterm report, but there was no agreement on any of the recommendations.

On 18 January, the Panel submitted its final report under resolution 2207 to the Committee. The report will be considered at the Committee’s next meeting, which at press time had yet to be scheduled. As had been expected, the report concluded that widespread sanctions violations had continued and also made several recommendations aimed at strengthening implementation of the sanctions regime.

In a separate development, on 8 December the US announced several new additions to its DPRK-related sanctions list. These included the DPRK’s strategic rocket force, which the Panel of Experts recommended should be added to the UN sanctions list in its report to the Sanctions Committee on the DPRK’s 26 March 2014 ballistic missile launch. The new US listings also included three shipping companies—Haejin Ship Management Company Limited, Pyongjin Ship Management Company Limited and Yongjin Ship Management Company Limited. In its 2015 final report, the Panel recommended that they be added to the UN sanctions list as owned or controlled by the Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM), already on the list since July 2014. In addition, the US sanctioned six officials of the Tanchon Commercial Bank. The bank has been on the UN sanctions list since April 2009.   

Human Rights-Related Developments

The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, visited Seoul from 21 to 26 November. In a 26 November statement, he warned that nothing had changed in the country since the commission of inquiry on the DPRK issued its 2014 report and that the crimes against humanity documented in the report appeared to continue. Darusman underlined the crucial role of civil society in taking a lead role towards accountability for those most responsible for the DPRK government’s systematic denial of human rights. He also noted that during the visit, his attention was repeatedly drawn to the increasing difficulties faced by individuals from the DPRK attempting to cross the border, mainly to China, and seeking to reach the ROK. In addition to the DPRK’s strict border control, imposing a virtually absolute ban on its citizens crossing the border, China has a rigorous policy of forcibly repatriating DPRK nationals. Furthermore, he expressed disappointment that Russia had signed an extradition treaty with the DPRK the previous week. Despite Russia’s assurance that this treaty would not be used to return anybody at risk of persecution, it could de facto facilitate forced repatriation of DPRK asylum seekers, which might put the returnees at risk of serious violations, including torture, Darusman said.

From 18 to 22 January, Darusman visited Japan to assess the latest developments and discuss ways to ensure accountability for gross human rights violations in the DPRK, including abductions. In a 22 January statement, he said that in addition to continuing political pressure to exhort the DPRK to improve human rights, it was also imperative to pursue criminal responsibility of its leadership. Consequently, the visit focused on exchanging views with law enforcement agencies on national and international accountability issues, to look at the legal framework and identify possible next steps for seeking accountability for serious human rights violations, in particular in relation to the DPRK’s abduction of Japanese nationals. He also expressed disappointment that there had been no concrete progress towards resolving the abductions issue since Japan and the DPRK signed a bilateral agreement almost two years ago. Darusman will present his report to the Human Rights Council in March, before his current mandate ends in July. 

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is what kind of additional measures should be imposed on the DPRK in response to the 6 January nuclear test, and whether new sanctions measures will induce the DPRK to change its behaviour or only further aggravate the situation. 

An additional issue is whether to implement any of the Panel’s recommendations. 

A practical issue is whether to renew the Panel’s mandate in the new sanctions resolution or adopt a separate resolution later. (The Council expressed its intention in resolution 2207 to renew the mandate by 7 March 2016.)


Main options include:

  • adopting a resolution that would significantly strengthen existing sanctions provisions and impose new measures, including additional new targeted listings; or
  • adopting a weaker resolution that would mainly condemn the nuclear test, call for stricter enforcement of existing measures and emphasise the need for dialogue and the resumption of the six-party talks;
  • in either case, including a provision extending the Panel of Experts for another 13 months; and
  • holding an open briefing for UN member states once the new resolution has been adopted, to be convened by the Committee chair, to explain the new measures and stress the need for strict compliance with all Council resolutions on the DPRK. (It is now more than a year and a half since the last open briefing was held in July 2014.) 
Council and Wider Dynamics

At press time, negotiations on a draft resolution on the DPRK were still ongoing and the timeline for adoption remained unclear, although the Chinese New Year on 8 February was seen by some as a potential deadline. As was the case in the past, only a few countries have so far been engaged in the negotiations. China and the US, as the penholder, are the main players, but Japan and the ROK seem to be closely involved on the side lines. Few details about the main elements being discussed have emerged so far, although US Ambassador Samantha Power apparently said during the consultations on 6 January that the US would be seeking to target the DPRK’s proliferation procurement networks and the illicit activities of DPRK diplomats, and that it also wanted to strengthen restrictions on maritime transportation, financial transactions, and small arms, which are currently exempt from the arms embargo. More recent remarks by the US and its allies seem to indicate that they are seeking to significantly step up the pressure on the DPRK through a more comprehensive approach that would include measures designed to target the country’s leadership.

While China used unusually strong language in condemning the nuclear test, it still appears reluctant to support stronger measures against the DPRK, and has continued to stress that any new resolution must focus on safeguarding peace and stability in the region. For its part, the US has made clear it believes China’s approach has failed and that it is time for Beijing to take the lead in putting more pressure on the DPRK, given its special relationship with Pyongyang. In a meeting in Beijing on 27 January, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the need for significant new measures, while China stressed that the new resolution should not provoke additional tensions.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution
4 March 2015 S/RES/2207 renewed the Panel of Experts’ mandate for 13 months.
Security Council Letters
6 January 2016 S/2016/9 was the ROK statement on DPRK’s 6 January nuclear test.
21 December 2015 S/2015/1007 was a letter from the DPRK transmitting a statement warning the US of “unimaginable consequences to be entailed by its persistent hostile policy towards the DPRK.”
3 December 2015 S/2015/931 was the letter from nine Council members requesting a meeting on the DPRK.
Security Council Meeting Record
10 December 2015 S/PV.7575 was the Council meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Documents
31 December 2015 S/2015/987 was the Sanctions Committee’s 2015 Annual Report.
27 March 2015 S/2015/131 was the Panel of Experts’ 2015 final report.   
Security Council Press Statement
6 January 2016 SC/12191 condemned DPRK’s nuclear test earlier that day.