May 2024 Monthly Forecast


DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In May, the Chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland), is scheduled to brief Council members in closed consultations on the 90-day report on the Committee’s work.

Key Recent Developments

On 28 March, Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee for another year, until 30 April 2025. The remaining Council members—apart from China, which abstained—voted in favour of the text. The Panel’s mandate expired on 30 April. (For more information on the negotiations, see our 22 March What’s in Blue story.)

On 11 April, at the General Assembly debate on Russia’s veto, Russia announced that it planned to pursue a draft resolution that would extend the Panel’s mandate for one year and include “a clear determination of the imperative for the Council to take a decision on updating the parameters” of the 1718 sanctions regime. Russia circulated the first draft of this resolution to all Council members on 12 April. It seems that Russia appeared to pause the negotiations on this draft on 30 April.

During a visit to Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) from 14 to 20 April, US Permanent Representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted that the US was considering alternatives for monitoring the implementation of the 1718 sanctions regime, reportedly saying, “we’re working to do something in the General Assembly. We are pushing the Secretariat through the Secretary-General to do something out of his office, but we are also looking at options outside of the UN”.

The final report of the Panel was issued on 7 March. The report notes that the Panel is investigating reports of arms transfers from the DPRK to other member states, including Russia, and says that the DPRK has continued to flout the 1718 sanctions regime, including by further developing nuclear weapons, producing nuclear fissile materials, importing refined petroleum products, and receiving income from DPRK nationals working overseas. In relation to the DPRK’s cyber activities, the report observes that the Panel is investigating 58 cyberattacks on cryptocurrency-related companies, valued at approximately $3 billion, and notes that these attacks have reportedly funded the DPRK’s weapons programmes.

Since the publication of the report, several civil society organisations have documented instances of possible sanctions evasion, including one example where a Russian cargo ship believed to be carrying munitions from the DPRK allegedly moored in China and another where DPRK workers appeared to be working on overseas animation projects. On 26 March, the ROK and the US announced the launch of the Enhanced Disruption Task Force, a joint effort between the two countries established to counter the DPRK’s efforts to “circumvent sanctions concerning the procurement of refined petroleum.”

On 29 April, Reuters reported that three members of the Panel had travelled to Ukraine during April. In a report to the 1718 Sanctions Committee regarding their visit, the three experts reportedly concluded that debris recovered from a missile that landed in Kharkiv in January “derives from a DPRK Hwasong-11 series missile”. The experts also observed that the missile appeared to have been procured by Russian nationals and noted that this would be a violation of the arms embargo against the DPRK.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have shown few signs of receding in 2024. The DPRK continued to trial its weapons systems throughout March and April, including by launching different types of ballistic and cruise missiles, testing a solid fuel engine for a hypersonic weapon and a nuclear weapons command-and-control system, and firing rocket launchers and anti-aircraft missiles. Several of these tests violated multiple Council resolutions. The DPRK has also continued to ramp up its military rhetoric. On 7 March, state media reported that the DPRK’s leader, Kim Jong Un, had instructed military officials to intensify “war preparations in line with the requirements of the prevailing situation”.

The US and its allies have carried out military drills in the region in recent months. On 12 April, a US carrier strike group began a two-day joint exercise with Japan and the ROK in the East China Sea. On 4 March, the ROK and the US commenced their annual “Freedom Shield” exercise, which included an emphasis on “counter nuclear operations” involving land, sea, air, cyber, and space assets. Several weeks later, Japan, the ROK, and the US conducted a trilateral aerial exercise for the third time. The historic drills began after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol, and US President Joe Biden attended a summit at Camp David in August 2023, where they agreed to coordinate responses to regional challenges, conduct annual trilateral military exercises, and exchange real-time missile warning data, among other matters.

The DPRK has also engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity in 2024, both in its immediate region and beyond. On 24 April Ri Chol-man, head of the DPRK’s state agriculture commission, met with Russian Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev in Moscow, where they reportedly agreed to sign a series of agreements boosting agricultural cooperation between the two countries. DPRK officials also travelled to Iran in late April in an apparent effort to increase ties. In late March, a DPRK delegation travelled to China, Laos, and Viet Nam for a series of meetings with representatives of each country. Several weeks later, Zhao Leji, the chairman of the China National People’s Congress and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, met his DPRK counterpart Choe Ryong Hae in Pyongyang. According to media reports, the meeting marked the first occasion in approximately five years that China and the DPRK have met at this level.

The day before this meeting took place, President Biden hosted Kishida and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the White House. In remarks delivered after the meeting, which was the first leaders’ summit among the three countries, Biden said that Japan, the Philippines, and the US were “deepening our maritime and security ties” and described the US’ defence commitments to Japan and the Philippines as “ironclad”.

In late March, several media outlets reported that Kishida had offered to meet with Kim Jong Un. Japan subsequently acknowledged that the offer for a meeting had been made, but said that the DPRK had sought to impose unacceptable preconditions on possible talks.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 4 April, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK for one year (A/HRC/55/L.19). The resolution also requested the High Commissioner to submit a comprehensive report containing an update on the human rights situation in the DPRK since 2014. This report will also take stock of the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK (A/HRC/25/63).

The Special Rapporteur’s latest report was issued on 26 March (A/HRC/55/63). The report highlighted that international staff of the UN and humanitarian agencies have not been able to return to the DPRK despite the country partially reopening its border in August 2023. In addition, the report noted there is a lack of up-to-date information on the human rights situation and stated that the intense focus on security and regular security-related information from the government in the media has diverted attention from the worsening human rights conditions. The report also reiterated that the Special Rapporteur is concerned that escapees from the DPRK had been forcibly repatriated from China despite repeated appeals by multiple international human rights bodies for a halt to such repatriations.

On 20 March, during an oral update to the HRC, Deputy High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif said there continues to be impunity for human rights violations perpetrated in the DPRK. She argued that accountability should be pursued outside of the DPRK and suggested that this could be achieved through referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or national level prosecutions “in accordance with international standards under accepted principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction”.

Key Issues and Options

The expiration of the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee has created a major issue for Council members. Although the Panel’s mandate has expired, the Council could choose to adopt a resolution requesting that the Secretary-General reconstitute the Panel.

Should the Council prove unable to reach agreement on this issue, Council members who favour extending the Panel’s mandate could push for the General Assembly to establish a mechanism charged with monitoring the implementation of the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime. Such a mechanism could be tasked with performing functions similar to those assigned to the Panel, including analysing information regarding the implementation of the 1718 sanctions regime and making appropriate recommendations. The mechanism could report to the Secretary-General, who could then communicate its reports to the 1718 Sanctions Committee or the President of the Council. Interested member states could also send the reports to the Chair of the 1718 Sanctions Committee.

Although Article 12 of the UN Charter provides that the General Assembly “shall not make any recommendation” regarding a dispute or situation while the Council is exercising its functions under the Charter in respect of that dispute or situation, the General Assembly has nonetheless dealt with matters while they were on the agenda of the Council on several occasions. In December 2016, for example, the General Assembly established the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes Under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic Since March 2011 (IIIM). The IIIM was created after China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the ICC in May 2014. Article 12 was discussed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 2004 “Wall Case”, where the Court noted “the increasing tendency over time for the General Assembly and the Security Council to deal in parallel with the same matter concerning the maintenance of international peace and security” and observed that “the accepted practice of the General Assembly, as it has evolved, is consistent with Article 12(1) of the Charter.”

Council Dynamics

The Council is deeply divided over the DPRK. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded countries, including Japan and the ROK, support using sanctions to manage the threat posed by the DPRK and often call on member states to comply with existing Council resolutions. Many of these members have urged the DPRK to engage in dialogue and abandon its weapons programmes, while emphasising that it is responsible for escalating tensions. Some of these members also call for the Council to show unity and respond to the DPRK’s weapons tests and argue that China and Russia have emboldened it by blocking Council action on the file.

China and Russia, on the other hand, blame the US for heightening tensions and accuse it of not doing enough to incentivise the DPRK to participate in denuclearisation talks. These two members have also contended that sanctions should be eased because of their impact on the humanitarian situation and continue to express their support for a draft resolution circulated by China in October 2021 that would provide sanctions relief to the DPRK if adopted.

The divisions between Council members were evident during the negotiations of the US draft resolution on the Panel’s mandate. In a statement delivered before the vote on this draft, Russia claimed that the Panel has ceased to carry out its obligations and said that the sanctions regime no longer reflects realities on the ground, imposes a heavy burden on the population of the DPRK, and has failed to achieve the international community’s stated aims. It further argued that a provision requiring an annual review of the regime was needed to address these issues. China expressed support for an annual review of the regime and called on the Council to consider the draft resolution it circulated in October 2021 on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK, which would provide sanctions relief to the DPRK if adopted.

Other Council members strongly criticised Russia’s veto, arguing that it undermines the global non-proliferation regime and emboldens the DPRK in its attempts to evade sanctions. Several members—including France, Japan, the ROK, the UK, and the US—linked the veto to Russia’s alleged purchase of arms from the DPRK. Some of these members emphasised that the 1718 regime remained in place and that they would continue efforts to monitor and enforce its provisions.

Some members appear to be considering whether to ask the General Assembly to establish a mechanism to monitor the 1718 sanctions regime. During the General Assembly debate on Russia’s veto, for example, Switzerland said that the Council must look for alternatives to respond to the possible lack of analysis and noted that it remains open to exploring solutions, including in the General Assembly. Members are also concerned, however, about possible unforeseen implications and the precedent that could be established, and some would prefer having the Council continue to manage this issue.

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Security Council Resolution
23 March 2023S/RES/2680 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2024.
Sanctions Committee Document
7 March 2024S/2024/215 This was the final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.
Security Council Meeting Record
28 March 2024S/PV.9591 This is a record of the meeting at which Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

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