March 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2016
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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution to renew for another 13 months the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee.

Key Recent Developments

At press time, the Council was poised to adopt a resolution that would significantly strengthen sanctions against the DPRK in response to its 6 January nuclear test and subsequent 7 February satellite launch. The draft, which was circulated to Council members on 25 February after weeks of protracted negotiations between China and the US, would, among other things, institute mandatory inspections of all cargo going in and out of the DPRK, strengthen financial sanctions, impose restrictions on exports from the DPRK of coal, iron, gold titanium and rare earth minerals, ban the supply to the DPRK of aviation fuel and expand the weapons embargo to include small arms. It would also significantly expand the list of entities and individuals subject to targeted sanctions, adding 17 individuals and 12 entities, and strengthen restrictions on the transfer to and from the DPRK of prohibited proliferation-sensitive or dual-use items. 

In the period since the nuclear test, the DPRK has remained defiant of the international community despite widespread condemnation and the threat of new sanctions issued by the Council in a press statement on the day of the test. On 2 February, the DPRK notified the International Maritime Organisation that it would launch an earth observation satellite between 8 and 25 February. In a 4 February letter to the Council, the Republic of Korea (ROK) referred to the move as “a direct challenge to the entire international community” and warned that the DPRK would face a harsh international response if it went ahead with the launch. The US and others also warned that such a launch would be met with a tough response, while China expressed serious concern.

Notwithstanding these warnings, the DPRK on 7 February declared that it had successfully put a satellite into orbit. Council members held consultations that same day and condemned the launch in a press statement. In particular, they noted that although characterised by the DPRK as a satellite launch, it used ballistic missile technology that could be employed to deliver nuclear weapons systems and was therefore a serious violation of relevant Council resolutions. They also recalled their intention to develop significant new measures in response to the 6 January nuclear test and said they would expeditiously adopt a new resolution.

According to the ROK, the rocket used for the satellite launch had a longer range and carried a heavier payload than the one used for a similar launch in April 2012, and was capable of reaching the US West Coast. There were also reports that the DPRK had expanded its Yongbyon nuclear enrichment facility and restarted its plutonium production reactor there.

Meanwhile, the ROK announced on 10 February that in response to Pyongyang’s provocations it would suspend all operations at the Kaesong industrial complex run jointly with the DPRK, and accused the DPRK of using income from the operations there to finance its nuclear programme. The DPRK on 11 February called the move a declaration of war and said the complex would be converted into a military control zone.

On 18 February, the ROK announced that the annual ROK-US joint military exercises due to begin in March would be the largest ever. As it has done in the past, the DPRK strongly criticised the plans and warned that it would “immediately and mercilessly” respond to any provocations. Earlier in the month, the ROK and the US announced that they would start formal consultations on the possible deployment of the US anti-ballistic missile system referred to as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System) in response to the increased threat from the DPRK, but on 23 February, just ahead of a meeting in Washington, D.C., between the foreign ministers of China and the US, they said the talks would be postponed. The US denied, however, that the postponement was linked to the sanctions negotiations.   

Humanitarian assistance to the DPRK remained severely underfunded. To alleviate the situation, the Secretary-General on 3 February announced the release of $8 million dollars from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund towards assistance for some 2.2 million people who are most vulnerable and at risk of malnutrition. According to the UN, around 70 percent of the population in the DPRK is considered food insecure, while the chronic malnutrition rate among children under the age of five was 28 percent. In 2015, 11 percent of the agricultural harvest was lost due to drought.  

Other Sanctions-Related Developments

The 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee met on 18 February to discuss the final report of its Panel of Experts under resolution 2207. The report concluded that widespread sanctions violations had continued, highlighting in particular the activities of networks linked to the Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM), which was designated by the Committee in July 2014, as well as activities involving African countries. Emphasising the importance of implementation by member states, the report noted that several Council members in 2015 had themselves failed to submit national implementation reports as required under resolution 2094. Recommendations included more outreach to non-Council members through open briefings and bilateral meetings, providing additional guidance on the implementation of the arms embargo and the ban on training of DPRK nationals, expanding the list of prohibited items and designating additional individuals and entities for targeted sanctions. The Committee chair, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), briefed Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee on 25 February. 

In separate developments, Japan announced on 10 February that it would strengthen its bilateral sanctions against the DPRK by, among other things, imposing additional restrictions on travel between the two countries, a complete ban on DPRK ships entering Japanese ports and a ban on remittances to the DPRK except for those made for humanitarian purposes.   On 18 February, a strengthening of US sanctions against the DPRK came into effect, targeting activities contributing to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as arms-related materials, human rights abuses and activities undermining cybersecurity. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

At its 31st session in March, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider the report of Marzuki Darusman, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, and the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which covers the activities of the field-based structure in Seoul created to strengthen the monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation in the DPRK.

The special rapporteur’s report concludes that crimes against humanity appear to be continuing in the DPRK and urges the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC, failing which it suggests the General Assembly could establish a tribunal under its residual powers of “Uniting for Peace”. It calls on member states to ensure that the Council holds regular briefings on the situation, with the participation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other relevant experts, including the special rapporteur. Furthermore, the report recommends that the HRC arrange to have an official communication addressed to the Supreme Leader of the DPRK to advise him and other senior leaders that they may be investigated and, if found to be responsible, held accountable for crimes against humanity committed under their leadership. It also recommends that the HRC establish a group of independent experts with a mandate to determine an appropriate approach towards accountability.

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is the serious escalation in the threat posed by the DPRK to international peace and security as it continues to defy the Council’s demands and reject any dialogue aimed at denuclearisation. A further issue is whether the tightening of sanctions currently underway will induce the DPRK to change its behaviour or only further aggravate the situation.

An immediate issue is the renewal of the Panel of Experts’ mandate and whether any changes will be required to reflect changes in the sanctions regime.

In the Sanctions Committee, key issues include implementation of the new sanctions provisions and follow-up to the Panel’s latest report. 


The main option for the Council is to renew the mandate of the Panel of Experts for another 13 months.

Another option is for the Committee chair to convene an open briefing for UN member states to explain the measures contained in the new sanctions resolution and to present the Panel of Experts’ report. (It is now more than a year and a half since the last open briefing was held in July 2014.)

A further option is for the Committee to issue guidance, as needed, aimed at helping member states implement the new sanctions measures. 

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members generally welcome the new sanctions resolution, including members like Japan, who had been pushing hard for a strong outcome on the sidelines of the negotiations between China and the US.  The ROK also expressed satisfaction with the new measures. Overall, the outcome seems to have exceeded expectations, given China’s initially cautious approach.  It appears that the DPRK’s 7 February satellite launch was an important factor in convincing China that a more robust response was needed.

While China’s position now seems to have shifted towards a tougher stance, it made clear when the draft resolution was presented that sanctions are not the fundamental way to solve the nuclear issue. It reiterated its call for a two-track approach including efforts to formally end the Korean war, echoing the DPRK’s demand for negotiations to begin on a peace treaty. China has also continued to call for the resumption of the six-party talks involving the DPRK, China, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US.  It therefore remains to be seen whether the agreement on the new sanctions resolution will lead to greater unity going forward among China, the US and other key regional players in dealing with the DPRK nuclear threat and to what extent China will be willing to use its bilateral leverage to exert pressure on Pyongyang.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution
4 March 2015 S/RES/2207 renewed the Panel of Experts’ mandate for 13 months.
Security Council Letter
4 February 2016 S/2016/117 was the ROK letter regarding the DPRK’s announcement that it would launch a satellite.
Security Council Press Statements
7 February 2016 SC/12234 condemned the DPRK’s satellite launch.
6 January 2016 SC/12191 condemned the DPRK’s nuclear test.
Human Rights Council Documents
19 January 2016 A/HRC/31/70 was the report of the special rapporteur. 
1 February 2016 A/HRC/31/38 was the OHCHR’s report.