February 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2018
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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 Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands), is due to provide his first briefing in this capacity. The committee is expected to discuss the final report of the Panel of Experts in February, but the report is not expected to be formally presented to the Council until March.

Key Recent Developments

The DPRK launched a new type of inter-continental ballistic missile on 29 November 2017. The Council held a public briefing on the same day, during which members condemned the missile test and demanded that the DPRK abide by UN resolutions. The Council adopted resolution 2397 on 22 December, further strengthening sanctions on the DPRK. This resolution cuts DPRK’s import of gasoline, diesel and other refined products by about 90 percent by setting a ceiling of 500,000 barrels for 12 months starting on 1 January 2018. It caps the supply of crude oil at 4 million barrels for a period of 12 months, followed by another year at the same number if the 4 million barrels was not exceeded. The resolution further restricts the commodities that the DPRK can import and export; bans all new work permits for DPRK citizens working abroad, requiring countries to expel all DPRK workers within 24 months; and tightens the sanctions in relation to maritime interdiction of vessels.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed Council members on 1 December following his visit to the DPRK from 5 to 8 December 2017. While in Pyongyang, Feltman met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Pak Myong Guk, the UN country team, and the diplomatic corps. During his meetings, Feltman emphasised that time was of the essence and noted that there was an urgent need to prevent miscalculations and open the channels of communication to reduce the risks of conflict.

On 15 December, the Council held a ministerial-level meeting on the “Threats and Challenges posed by the DPRK to International Peace and Security”. In his briefing Secretary-General António Guterres warned that an accidental escalation could lead to conflict on the Korean Peninsula and emphasised that it was time to re-establish and strengthen communications channels, including inter-Korean and military-to-military ones, in order to lower the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding.

In his New Year’s Day message, DPRK president Kim Jong-un claimed that the country had completed its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. He also signalled that North Korea might participate in the Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea (ROK), from 9 to 25 February, and proposed immediate talks to discuss the games and ways to “defuse military tension” on the peninsula. Within the next few days, the two Koreas restored their communication channel at Panmunjom, which had been defunct since early 2016 when the joint Kaesong industrial zone was shut down by the ROK in protest over the DPRK’s fourth nuclear test. They also agreed that the inter-Korean talks would take place on 9 January with a focus on the DPRK’s participation in the Olympics. During the talks, the DPRK agreed to send a high-ranking delegation and athletes to the Olympics. It also agreed to hold military talks and high-level inter-Korean talks on a number of issues.

At the request of Poland and Sweden, Council members were briefed on 10 January on the outcome of the inter-Korean talks by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča. Following the meeting, Council members agreed on elements to the press that said they noted that such initial dialogue between the two Koreas could open possibilities for confidence- and trust-building to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. They also expressed hope that such interactions could lead to denuclearisation. A number of Council members expressed similar sentiments during the 18 January high-level briefing on non-proliferation.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 28 December 2017, the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee designated four vessels for a port ban pursuant to resolution 2371. These ships now have a global ban on entry to ports as a result of their continued shipment of banned goods to DPRK, including refined petroleum products, and for carrying coal from the DPRK. This was the first time the committee made such a designation.

The 1718 Sanctions Committee met on 11 December 2017 to hear briefings on the humanitarian impact of the sanctions on the DRPK and on the challenges of implementing financial sanctions. Ahead of the meeting, the committee issued a press release making clear that sanctions measures are not intended to have adverse consequences for the DPRK’s civilian population. It also highlighted that the committee may, on a case-by-case basis, exempt any activity from the measures imposed by the resolutions in order to facilitate the work of organisations involved in assistance or relief activities. It called upon humanitarian actors to work with member states to provide humanitarian assistance and to seek exemptions and provide timely information.

Human Rights-Related Developments 

The special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, visited the DPRK from 11 to 14 December 2017. This was the first time the DPRK granted access to the special rapporteur since the mandate was created in 2004. In a 6 December 2017 statement before the visit, Quintana noted, “[t]his is a country that has long been closed to any conversation on human rights, so these interactions with the international community should be encouraged as they help improve the living conditions of the population”. In a 15 December 2017 statement after his visit, Quintana said that many North Koreans have been reduced to sheer economic survival, and civilians in the countryside “live a life marked by arduous forced labour, with a total breakdown in the basic services meant to be provided by the state and people being left to fend for themselves”. He also stressed that the potential adverse impact on human rights and the livelihoods of the population have to be considered in the design and implementation of international sanctions. The special rapporteur will submit a report to the Human Rights Council at its 37th session in March.

On 11 December 2017, the Council held its fourth meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK, with briefings by High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (by video teleconference) and Jenča. The meeting was convened in response to a request in a joint letter from France, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK, the US and Uruguay. At the beginning of the meeting, there was a procedural vote to adopt the agenda at the request of several members, which was subsequently adopted with ten votes in favour, three against (Bolivia, China and Russia) and two abstentions (Egypt and Ethiopia).

Key Issues and Options

An issue is how the dialogue between the two Koreas can be used to encourage wider diplomatic activity. The Council could consider how to support further engagement with the DPRK by relevant parties, including the UN.

Finding the right balance between applying pressure through sanctions and exploring the diplomatic track continues to be an issue. The possible window of opportunity that has opened up with recent developments may require a frank discussion among Council members on the best way to bring the DPRK to the table. 

An upcoming issue may be getting agreement in the sanctions committee on the recommendations of the Panel of Experts. Members expect certain recommendations, such as those on financial sanctions and interdiction, to be possibly divisive. Given that the strict implementation of the sanctions is a serious issue that the committee continues to grapple with, once the recommendations of the sanction committee based on the final report of the Panel of Experts have been agreed, they could be used as the basis for a robust discussion of areas of implementation that need Council oversight.

A continuing issue for some members is the humanitarian impact of the sanctions. The Council could emphasise the importance of humanitarian organisations’ providing early information to the committee on the need for humanitarian exemptions. The Panel of Experts could also be given the responsibility to monitor closely the impact of humanitarian sanctions on the civilian population. 

Council Dynamics

While the Council was able to adopt three resolutions strengthening sanctions on the DPRK in 2017, differences remain between those who want to focus mainly on sanctions and those who believe that these measures should be combined with diplomacy. China and the US continue to be the lead actors, with Russia playing an increasing role. The US has made clear that all options are still on the table and continues to believe in its “maximum pressure” approach. It agreed to shift the start of the next joint military exercise with the ROK to after the Olympics, but in general is not open to stopping these exercises in order to get the DPRK to halt its missile development. Some of the US rhetoric in recent months is seen to have contributed to the escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula. China appears to have accepted the need for stronger sanctions over the last year but continues to strongly advocate for dialogue. Russia had specific issues with some of the sanctions language in the last year, resulting in its expressing strong views during negotiations. Some elected members are taking an active interest in this issue, with Sweden and Poland taking the initiative to ask for a briefing on the recent inter-Korean talks.  

The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and the Netherlands chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. 

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Security Council Resolutions
22 December 2017 S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on DPRK.
5 August 2017 S/RES/2371 This resolution condemned the 3 and 28 July ballistic missile launches.
2 June 2017 S/RES/2356 This was a resolution condemning the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development activities, including missile launches, conducted by the DPRK in flagrant disregard of relevant Council resolutions since 9 September 2016.
Security Council Presidential Statements
29 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/16 Condemned the launch of a missile over the territory of Japan and urged the DPRK to comply with previous Council resolutions and presidential statements.
Security Council Meeting Records
28 December 2017 S/PV.8137 This was a ministerial-level meeting on the “Threats and Challenges posed by the DPRK to International Peace and Security”, with Secretary-General António Guterres briefing and Japanese Foreign Minister Tarō Kōno chairing. The DPRK and Republic of Korea participated under Rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Council.
22 December 2017 S/PV.8151 The Council adopted resolution 2397 tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
11 December 2017 S/PV.8130 This was the fourth meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
Security Council Letters
1 December 2017 S/2017/1006 This was a letter from the Permanent Representatives of France, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK, the US and Uruguay requesting a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Documents
25 January 2018 SC/13113 This was the press release from the 1718 Sanctions Committee ahead of its 11 December meeting.

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