February 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2019
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In February, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany) is due to provide his first briefing in this capacity. Ahead of the briefing, the committee is likely to discuss the final report of its Panel of Experts, although the report is not expected to be formally presented to the Council until March.

Key Recent Developments

Diplomatic efforts through 2018 led to several significant breakthroughs on the Korean peninsula, resulting in an overall decline in tensions and the halting of missile-testing activities by the DPRK.

Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un held three summits and made commitments towards further improving relations between the two countries. In June, US President Donald Trump and Kim held the first US-DPRK summit and signed a joint declaration pledging to work on building new relations, striving to achieve lasting peace on the peninsula, and working towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Besides some symbolic moves, the DPRK has yet to take concrete steps towards denuclearisation.

On 18 January, the DPRK’s main negotiator, Kim Yong-chol, held talks in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and later with President Trump. The White House announced the same day that the second US-DPRK summit would take place at the end of February. At press time, however, neither side had provided further details about the summit. In a press conference on 18 January, UN Secretary-General António Guterres encouraged the negotiations between the US and the DPRK and emphasised the need to develop a clearly defined roadmap for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

In his annual January address to the media, Moon called on the DPRK to take tangible steps towards denuclearisation to justify sanctions relief. He also emphasised that the US would have to realise that it would have to take reciprocal denuclearisation measures. In his new year’s national address, Kim noted that his country had stopped testing and producing nuclear weapons. He stressed, however, that further actions on denuclearisation would be contingent on the willingness of the US to provide sanctions relief.

In December 2018, the Council broke with the practice of holding an annual meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK because of a lack of sufficient support by members. Each year since 2014, the discussion of the agenda item “the situation in the DPRK” has required a procedural vote in order to be included on the programme of work. In December, however, proponents could not gather nine members to sign the letter requesting the meeting. (Council decisions of a procedural nature need nine affirmative votes for a decision to be adopted, and the veto does not apply.)

Human Rights-Related Developments

The special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, visited the South Korean capital, Seoul, from 7 to 11 January. In a statement on 11 January, he said that despite the positive developments of the past year, it was “regrettable” that the human rights situation on the ground remains “unchanged” and continues to be “extremely serious”. He also expressed concerns about the system of political prison camps and urged the DPRK government to allow him to visit the country. He repeated a call made to the Security Council to supervise the implementation of its sanctions regime with a view to ensuring that it is not detrimental to the people of the DPRK. In March, the Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur.

Key Issues and Options

While tensions on the Korean peninsula declined dramatically during the last year, the security situation remains sensitive and warrants the close attention of the Council, whose primary issue continues to be maintaining stability in the region. Given that major diplomatic breakthroughs took place outside its purview, the Council has only played a limited role in this process. The future role of the Council on this issue will largely depend on how the broader geopolitical events develop.

A persistent issue for the Council, which is likely to become more prominent this year, is keeping the right balance between applying sanctions and simultaneously exploring the diplomatic track. In this context, the Council could consider modifying sanctions in an effort to encourage more substantial diplomatic engagement by the DPRK.  

There is a growing concern among some members about the negative effects of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The Council could consider seeking assistance from OCHA in getting more information on humanitarian exemptions. Another option would be to consider adding to the monitoring panel assisting the sanctions committee an expert on humanitarian issues who could analyse the impact of sanctions on the civilian population.

The ongoing dire human rights situation in the DPRK remains an issue. Although there was insufficient support among members to discuss this in 2018, an option would be for the Council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK in the near future. The Council’s composition in 2019 could make it possible to garner the nine votes required to hold the meeting, should there be a procedural vote.

Council Dynamics

In the latter part of 2018, the Council became more active in trying to address the implementation of sanctions on the DPRK. This has resulted in growing tensions among permanent members and exposed the rift between the US and Russia, in particular. The US has accused Russia of violating the sanctions on the DPRK by engaging in the illicit trade of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers. The tensions were further exacerbated over the midterm report of the Panel of Experts. The US blocked the publication of the midterm report in September 2018, claiming that Russia interfered in the work of the Panel, pressuring it to modify the report to conceal Russian violations of the sanctions regime.

While most Council members remain cautious in their optimism about the DPRK’s denuclearisation—it seems that only a few members were eager to adopt an outcome that would welcome the relative success of the inter-Korean and US-DPRK summits in 2018—they continue to support diplomatic efforts between the US and the DPRK as well as between the two Koreas. Some members are starting to question whether a new approach is needed in the Council’s relationship with the DPRK, including a greater response to positive developments through Council outcomes and other possible means of showing support for serious dialogue on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Most members would still want to see more concrete measures towards denuclearisation before considering any outcome. Council members might be more open to considering this option, should the anticipated diplomatic efforts this year result in substantial progress.

Some members, in particular China and Russia, are becoming increasingly interested in considering some form of sanctions relief for the DPRK. Russia has continued to call for easing the sanctions as a reward for positive actions by the DPRK. It also emphasised that further sanctions-tightening would have negative consequences on the humanitarian situation and other areas not related to denuclearisation. Some members seem to be open to exploring ways to exempt some inter-Korean joint projects from sanctions.

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
21 March 2018S/RES/2407 This was a resolution, unanimously adopted, extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2019.
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Security Council Presidential Statement
29 August 2017S/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
27 September 2018S/PV.8363 This was ministerial-level meeting on denuclearization the DPRK.
26 September 2018S/PV.8362 This is a summit-level meeting on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, chaired by US President Donald Trump.
17 September 2018S/PV.8353 This was an open briefing on the implementation of sanctions on the DPRK with a briefing by Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo on the recent efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
Sanctions Committee Document
21 December 2018S/2018/1148 This was the report of the 1718 DPRK Security Council Committee.