May 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2019
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In May, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany), is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the 90-day report of the work of the committee. 

Key Recent Developments

After initial discussions in the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, the final report of the Panel of Experts was published on 5 March. This is the first publicly-available report of the panel since March 2018. Council members failed to reach a consensus on publishing the midterm report, which was due in September 2018, after the US claimed that Russia had interfered with the work of the panel, an accusation that Russia denied.

While noting the absence of ballistic missile testing in 2018, the final report describes the DPRK’s continued violations of the sanctions imposed by the Council. Among the most prominent violations of sanctions, the report notes increased activities related to illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal by the DPRK. Financial sanctions have, according to the report, continued to be some of the least implemented, and the use of cryptocurrency has made financial activity even harder to trace. The panel has also described the DPRK’s use of cyber-attacks to force the illicit transfer of funds from financial institutions. The report further notes that the DPRK has continued to violate the arms embargo, including attempts to supply weapons to armed groups in Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

On 10 April, the Council adopted resolution 2464, which extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020. The vote on the draft resolution was postponed for several weeks because of a disagreement that arose between Russia and the US, the penholder. It seems that Russia wanted the resolution also to address the impact of the sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and to request OCHA periodically to report to the Council on this issue. As a compromise, committee members agreed to address the humanitarian situation in the DPRK within the committee and hold briefings by OCHA every six months.

After the collapse of the second US-DPRK Summit in Hanoi in February, diplomatic efforts on the denuclearisation of the DPRK have stalled. The breakdown of the summit has been attributed to differences over sanctions relief and denuclearisation. In remarks to the media, US President Donald Trump said that DPRK leader Kim Jong-un had asked the US to lift all sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear site. The North Korean leadership has disputed this claim, saying that the DPRK asked only for partial sanctions relief. Kim has not ruled out a third summit and has said that he will wait until the end of 2019 for the US to be more flexible.

On 16 April, the DPRK tested what it called “a tactical guided weapon”, which the US has said was not a ballistic weapons test.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 40th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 12 March with the special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, and considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on promoting accountability in the DPRK (A/HRC/40/36). The report describes the progress made on the HRC’s recommendations contained in resolution 34/24 on promoting accountability for human rights violations, particularly on the establishment and the work carried out by a dedicated accountability team of the Office of the High Commissioner, which contributes to and enhances the work already being undertaken by the OHCHR field-based structure in Seoul. On 22 March, the HRC adopted without a vote resolution 40/20 on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, which extended the mandate of the special rapporteur for one year. Among other things, the resolution “encourages the UN system as a whole to continue to address the grave situation of human rights in the DPRK in a coordinated and unified manner”.

Key Issues and Options

Tensions on the Korean peninsula remain, but have declined significantly during the past year. The DPRK has refrained from testing ballistic missiles for over a year and has engaged in diplomatic talks with the US on possible denuclearisation. The Council continues to be concerned with maintaining stability on the peninsula but has maintained a relatively low profile on DPRK, with most diplomatic activity taking place outside its purview. While the Council has been cautious about pronouncing itself on diplomatic developments, Council members could consider a formal product showing support for a third summit before the end of 2019.       

A continuing issue for the Council is finding the right balance between applying sanctions and simultaneously exploring the diplomatic track. An option for the Council is to explore ways to modify the sanctions on the DPRK to encourage further engagement on the diplomatic front.

Some Council members are concerned about the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The Council could seek more regular interaction with OCHA to obtain the information it needs for humanitarian exemptions. Another option would be to consider having the monitoring panel assisting the committee add an expert on humanitarian issues who could analyse the impact of sanctions on the civilian population.

A prevailing issue for the committee remains addressing gaps in the implementation of the sanctions on the DPRK. An emerging issue is preserving the independent nature of the panel, safeguarding it from pressure by Council members.

Council Dynamics

The Council has continued to maintain a low profile on the DPRK while the diplomatic efforts outside the Council play out. Over the past several months, Council dynamics have been dominated by diverging views between the US and Russia on the role of sanctions on the DPRK. The US continues to promote a policy of maximum pressure on the DPRK, while Russia and China have shown more interest in considering some form of sanctions relief. During the negotiations on the latest resolution on the mandate of the Panel of Experts, Russia stressed that the Council should address the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK.

Most Council members remain cautious in their optimism about the DPRK’s denuclearisation and supportive of inter-Korean and US-DPRK diplomatic efforts. While some members have shown interest in a new approach toward 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, there has been little movement in this direction.

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

UN Documents on the DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
10 April 2019S/RES/2464 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020.
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 Statements
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
10 April 2019S/PV.8507 The Council adopted the resolution renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020.
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.
Sanctions Committee Documents
21 December 2018S/2018/1148 This was the report of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.