February 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2017
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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 Sebastiano Cardi (Italy), who succeeded Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain) on 1 January, is due to brief Council members in consultations on the Committee’s work. Ahead of the briefing, the Sanctions Committee is scheduled to discuss the final report of its Panel of Experts under resolution 2276. In addition, Cardi is expected to convene a briefing open to all UN member states.

Key Recent Developments

In resolution 2321, adopted on 30 November 2016, the Council imposed additional unprecedented sanctions on the DPRK in response to the nuclear test conducted on 9 September. One of the main objectives of the resolution was to further restrict exports of coal from the DPRK as a source of income for financing prohibited activities. Resolution 2270, which was adopted in March 2016 in response to the DPRK’s 6 January nuclear test, had imposed a ban on coal exports, but it contained an exemption clause for livelihood purposes that was used to circumvent the ban. With resolution 2321 there is now a binding cap on how much coal the DPRK can export per year. States are required to report all transactions promptly to the Sanctions Committee, which will declare when the allowed quantities have been reached and all further procurement of coal from the DPRK must stop. (For more background on the resolution and its other provisions, please refer to our 29 November 2016 What’s in Blue story.)

In a 2 December 2016 letter to the Council, the DPRK rejected the sanctions resolution “as another excess of authority and a violation of the sovereignty of the DPRK by the Security Council acting under the instructions of the US”. Furthermore, in a 8 December letter, the DPRK urged the Secretariat to answer a 23 May letter in which it claimed that the Security Council had acted outside its mandate in declaring nuclear tests and peaceful satellite launches to be a threat to international peace and security. It asked for a clarification of the legal basis for the Council’s actions and why similar measures had not been taken against the US or other countries engaging in the same activities.

In a 5 January letter to the Secretary-General, the DPRK rejected a response it had received on 20 December 2016 referring to article 39 of the UN Charter (which concerns what measures the Council can take to restore international peace and security). The DPRK asserted that the article “cannot be the legal grounds for sanctions resolutions”.

In his annual New Year’s speech, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un declared that preparations for the first test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) were in the final stages. The foreign ministry later repeated the claim, and Republic of Korea (ROK) military officials also said they believed the DPRK had built two ICBMs and placed them on mobile launchers to be ready for test-firing in the near future. In an apparent response, Japan, the ROK and the US conducted a joint military exercise on detection and tracing of DPRK missiles from 21 to 23 January.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 15 December 2016, the Sanctions Committee adopted the list of conventional arms dual-use items referred to in one of the provisions of resolution 2321, which had directed the Committee to adopt such a list within 15 days of the adoption. The items on the list are subject to the import and export ban first imposed by the Council in resolution 1718. On 17 December, the Committee announced the removal of five vessels from the sanctions list annexed to resolution 2270, citing new measures that had been taken to establish confidence that the vessels were not controlled or operated by the Ocean Maritime Management Company, the entity that was listed by the Committee in July 2014 for its involvement in the arms shipment intercepted by Panama in July 2013. On 21 December, the Committee submitted its annual report to the Council.

At press time, the final report under resolution 2276 of the Panel of Experts assisting the Committee was expected to be ready for circulation to Council members by the end of January.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 7 December 2016, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report on the human rights implications of the involuntary separation of Korean families, concluding that the primary responsibility for resolving this issue rests with the governments of the DRPK and the ROK. The report recommended a number of measures, including allowing unhindered people-to-people contacts between the two countries and protecting people who leave the DPRK, including women and children, from trafficking and other human rights violations that break their family ties.

On 9 December 2016, the Security Council held its third meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK, following its decision on 22 December 2014 to add “the situation in the DPRK” to its agenda as an item separate from the non-proliferation issue in response to the findings of the February 2014 report of the Human Rights Council commission of inquiry. The meeting was convened in response to a joint request from France, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, the UK, the US and Uruguay, conveyed in a 1 December letter to the Council president. The format of the meeting was the same as in 2015, with briefings by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, followed by statements by Council members and the ROK. As was the case on the two previous occasions when the human rights situation in the DPRK was discussed, there was a procedural vote at the request of China on adopting the agenda for the meeting. China objected to the agenda on the grounds that the Council was not “a forum for discussing human rights issues, still less for the politicisation of such issues”. The agenda was subsequently adopted by a vote of nine in favour, five against (Angola, China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela) and one abstention (Senegal).

In a statement on 20 December 2016, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, welcomed the DPRK’s ratification on 6 December of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He called on the DPRK to implement the treaty in consultation with people with disabilities and for the opportunity to be used to advance the implementation of other human rights treaties previously ratified by the DPRK and to encourage broader engagement with human rights mechanisms.

Key Issues

The fundamental issue for the Council is how to deal with the growing threat to international peace and security posed by the DPRK as Pyongyang continues to develop the country’s nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities in direct defiance of the Council’s demands.

A related issue is whether the tightening of sanctions will achieve the stated objectives of preventing the DPRK from making further progress and inducing Pyongyang to engage with the international community, or whether a different approach is needed.

A continuing issue is the importance of ensuring effective sanctions implementation by all member states while avoiding adverse humanitarian consequences or negative effects on legitimate livelihood activities, as emphasised in resolutions 2270 and 2321.


One option is to hold the chair’s briefing in a public meeting, perhaps followed by consultations, to provide a forum for Council members to express publicly their concerns about the DPRK’s actions. With regard to the planned briefing for UN member states, it provides an opportunity to explain the new sanctions measures, emphasise the importance of strict implementation and remind them of the reporting obligations under resolution 2321, which called on states to report to the Council within 90 days on measures taken to implement the resolution.

At the Committee level, the immediate task is to examine the forthcoming Panel of Experts’ report and decide on what actions to take in response to its findings and recommendations. The Committee could also issue a press statement immediately after its first discussion of the report to raise awareness of the report and highlight specific areas of concern.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The adoption by consensus of resolution 2321 seems to indicate that there is a high degree of unity among Council members on the continued application of sanctions as one of the main tools for dealing with the threat posed by the DPRK. Council members recognise, however, that sanctions alone will not be enough and that the impact of the new measures depends on the degree of compliance by member states, above all by China. Despite the unity on sanctions, there are continuing tensions related to the planned deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in the ROK, as agreed with the US last year. Following the adoption of resolution 2321, both China and Russia expressed their firm opposition to the THAAD deployment, with China urging the parties concerned “to stop forthwith” the deployment process. On 13 January, China and Russia announced that they had agreed to take “countermeasures” in response to the deployment.

Even as Council members express confidence that sanctions will have an impact, they also seem to expect that Pyongyang will engage in new provocations and that this is not a question of “if” but “when”. There was initially speculation that the DPRK would conduct a missile test to coincide with the inauguration on 20 January of the new US president, Donald Trump. Since that did not happen, it is now seen as likely that the DPRK will carry out some kind of military provocation in connection with Kim Jong-il’s birthday on 16 February or the annual ROK-US joint military exercises in March.

Under the current circumstances, there is great interest in the forthcoming report from the Panel of Experts as Council members are looking to get a better sense of the impact that the most recent sanctions have had so far and compliance by member states.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

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Security Council Resolutions
30 November 2016 S/RES/2321 This was a resolution on sanctions.
24 March 2016 S/RES/2276 This was a resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, and deciding that the Panel’s mandate should apply with respect to measures imposed in resolution 2270.
2 March 2016 S/RES/2270 This was a resolution condemning in the strongest terms the nuclear test conducted by DPRK on 6 January 2016 and its ballistic missile launch of 7 February 2016, and demanding that it comply immediately with its international obligations.
Security Council Letters
5 January 2017 S/2017/11 This was the DPRK letter regarding the response to its 23 May letter.
22 December 2016 S/2016/1097 This was another DPRK letter denouncing resolution 2321.
8 December 2016 S/2016/1042 This was the DPRK letter requesting an answer to its 23 May letter.
2 December 2016 S/2016/1023 This was a letter from the DPRK rejecting the sanctions resolution adopted on 30 November 2016.
1 December 2016 S/2016/1034 This was a joint request for a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK from France, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, the UK, the US and Uruguay.
23 May 2016 S/2016/465 This was the DPRK letter asking the Secretariat to clarify the legal basis for the sanctions imposed by the Council.
Security Council Meeting Records
9 December 2016 S/PV.7830 This was a meeting on the situation in the DPRK.
30 November 2016 S/PV.7821 This was the adoption of resolution 2321.
Sanctions Committee Documents
21 December 2016 S/2016/1094 This was the Sanctions Committee’s annual report.
17 December 2016 SC/12636 This was a press statement listing five vessels.
16 December 2016 S/2016/1069 This was the new conventional arms dual use list adopted by the Sanctions Committee.

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