November 2020 Monthly Forecast


DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action 

In November, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany), is expected to brief Council members on the 90-day report about the committee’s work. Because of the temporary measures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the briefing is expected to be held as a closed videoconference (VTC).

Key Recent Developments

On 10 October, the DPRK held a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the governing Workers’ Party, during which it revealed a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). DPRK leader Kim Jong-un delivered a speech in which he thanked military forces for their response to storm damage caused by a typhoon that hit the country in September and for their efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. He apologised to the people of the DPRK for failing to improve their living conditions and praised them for their sacrifices during this year. The DPRK has reported no cases of COVID-19, a claim that has been disputed by many international experts. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had adverse effects on the economic situation in the country because of restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people.

In late September, a South Korean civilian government official working for the fisheries department was shot and killed at the maritime border between the two Koreas. Based on intelligence reports, South Korea has claimed that the official tried to defect to the North and was killed by DPRK troops who later burned the body out of fear that it might carry the COVID-19 virus. South Korea has condemned the act and called for a joint investigation of the incident. The DPRK has offered a different account of the incident, noting that the official had failed to answer questions upon being approached by DPRK troops, after which they opened fire. The DPRK has denied burning the man’s body but confirmed that they burned a floating device they had recovered after the incident. Kim has sent a message to the government of South Korea in which he apologised to the South Korean people and its president, Moon Jae-in.

After initial discussions in the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, the midterm report of the Panel of Experts was published on 28 August. The report described the DPRK’s continued violations of the sanctions imposed by the Council. The DPRK has continued to import refined petroleum products via illicit ship-to-ship transfers and direct deliveries. The panel has received a report containing data from 43 member states indicating that the DPRK has already breached an annual import limit of 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products. Russia and China questioned the validity of the report’s data and emphasised that there is not enough evidence to conclude that the DPRK has exceeded its annual cap. The midterm report also detailed instances of the DPRK’s engaging in malicious cyber activity aimed at obtaining financial assets (virtual and fiat) in violation of Security Council sanctions. The DPRK has also conducted cyber-attacks against officials from member states of the Council and the Panel of Experts. While the report noted that the DPRK did not conduct intercontinental or medium-range missile launches during the reporting period, it has continued to improve its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in violation of Council resolutions. In March, the DPRK conducted four short-range ballistic missile tests.

In December 2017, the Council adopted resolution 2397, which restricts the importing of refined petroleum products to the DPRK to 500,000 barrels annually. However, the Security Council did not specify what ratio should be used for the conversion rate for tons and barrels. A persistent issue at the committee level has been the inability of its members to agree on a ton/barrel conversion rate, which would help the committee determine with more precision the allowed amount of imported petroleum products. This issue was raised under “any other business” in July and discussed at the committee level in August and October. No agreement was reached.   

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 14 October, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, released a draft report calling on the international community to “urgently consider” lifting sanctions on North Korea, which may be experiencing worsening problems as a result of its COVID-19 lockdown. The draft report, which was due to be submitted to the General Assembly during the week of 19 October, said that North Korea’s severe lockdown and other stringent measures to control the virus have had a “devastating” effect on trade. This directly threatens food supplies and access to humanitarian aid, Ojea Quintana noted. Because of the unprecedented situation, he emphasised in his report that “the international responsibility for re-evaluating the sanctions regime is more urgent than ever”.

Key Issues and Options

Over the past 14 years, the Council has adopted a series of resolutions, imposing and gradually escalating sanctions on the DPRK. Yet the country has not significantly changed its behaviour: it has continued to test ballistic missiles and to violate the sanctions regime. Initial diplomatic efforts and a brief period of US-DPRK rapprochement in 2018-19 resulted in some easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Over the past year, however, the DPRK appears to have abandoned the diplomatic track and has resumed missile tests and development of its nuclear capabilities. Given the volatile security environment, the Council is primarily concerned with maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula. An option for the Council would be to consider issuing a formal outcome addressing the need for stability and the resumption of diplomatic talks.

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

On the sanctions front and at the committee level, an ongoing issue has been the inability of members to reach an agreement on the appropriate ton/barrel conversion. Given that the Council imposed limits on imports of refined petroleum products to the DPRK, reaching an agreement on this issue would contribute to better implementation of sanctions. Lacking agreement in the committee, an option would be to elevate the discussion of this issue to the Council level.

Council Dynamics

Members continue to be divided over the role of sanctions in addressing the nuclear threat posed by the DPRK. The US has been a strong proponent of maintaining the policy of maximum pressure until the DPRK takes concrete steps towards denuclearisation. The EU members of the Council are generally supportive of this approach. On the other hand, China and Russia have shown interest in considering some form of sanctions relief. In December 2019, they circulated a draft resolution providing partial sanctions relief for the DPRK, but the proposal has not been put to a vote and remains stalled because of insufficient support from other Council members.

Council members have been generally united in their concern about the potential consequences for the DPRK of a widespread outbreak of COVID-19. On this front, there has been broad support among 1718 Committee members for accelerating the process for considering humanitarian exceptions.

The US has been reluctant to address the DPRK’s ballistic missile tests in the Council in light of its diplomatic efforts. Several other Council member states, particularly European members, have pushed for discussions following the missile tests conducted earlier this year.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany) chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

Security Council Resolutions
30 March 2020S/RES/2515 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the work of the 1718 Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2021.
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Security Council Letters
31 March 2020S/2020/266 This letter from the president of the Security Council contained both the draft resolution and letters received in reply from Council members indicating their national positions on the draft resolution.
30 March 2020S/2020/246 This was a letter by the president of the Security Council containing the results of the vote on resolution 2515.
Security Council Meeting Records
11 December 2019S/PV.8682 The Council was briefed by Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific on non-proliferation related issues in DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Documents
28 August 2020S/2020/840 This was the midterm report of the Panel of Experts.
20 December 2019S/2019/971 This was the annual report of the 1718 Sanctions Committee.