What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 May 2014

Briefing by the Chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee

Tomorrow afternoon (20 May), the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), is scheduled to brief Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee, as is required at least every 90 days by resolution 1718.

It appears that the work of the Committee—which last met on 10 April—has recently been more or less on hold amid widespread concern that the DPRK is preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test. China has continued to advocate for a cautious approach, seemingly arguing that any further Council or Committee action would only increase tensions and lead to an escalation of the situation. While other Council members do not necessarily share this view, they have not challenged it, as it is understood that Beijing has been working bilaterally to prevent Pyongyang from going ahead with its nuclear test threat. At this stage, however, there seems to be a sense that the Committee needs to get back to work again. Tomorrow’s meeting represents an opportunity for Council members to review the main outstanding issues before the Committee and to exchange views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula more broadly.

Among key outstanding issues likely to be discussed are the 26 March rocket launches conducted by the DPRK. Following informal consultations on 27 March, Ambassador Lucas said in agreed “elements to the press” that Council members condemned the missile launches as a violation of resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087 and 2094 and would consult on an appropriate response, but so far there has been no further Council action. The US initially pushed for a presidential statement, but this is now off the table with China insisting on a more cautious approach. More recently, however, the Panel of Experts (PoE) assisting the Sanctions Committee submitted a report on the incident, recommending that the Committee designate the strategic rocket forces command of the DPRK as well as the head of the command in response to the violation. The Committee has yet to consider the report.

Another outstanding issue, which has been a main focus of the Committee’s most recent meetings, is how to respond to the Chong Chon Gang case. (Chong Chon Gang was the DPRK-flagged ship detained by Panama on 15 July 2013 on its way from Cuba with weapons and military equipment hidden in a cargo of sugar.) The PoE concluded in a 23 December 2013 incident report that the case constituted a sanctions violation. Many of the recommendations in the PoE’s 7 February 2014 final annual report to the Committee under resolution 2094 (S/2014/147) also pertained to this case.

More specifically, the PoE recommended that the Committee draw the attention of member states and the shipping industry to the concealment techniques employed in the case and encouraged member states to review their cooperation agreements with the DPRK, especially those involving military-to-military cooperation. It also recommended that the Committee issue an implementation assistance notice (IAN) to remind states that the arms embargo also includes services and assistance. (Cuba claimed that the weapons on board Chong Chon Gang had been shipped for repair and were therefore exempt from the embargo.) Tomorrow, Council members are likely to express their views on the need for appropriate follow-up action. It appears that the US has already conducted negotiations with China on a draft IAN that could be presented to the Committee and has also prepared designation proposals that could be taken forward, but it is not expected to do so unless there is a good chance of getting the approval of all Council members.

In addition, it is possible that some Council members will use the opportunity tomorrow to address the human rights situation in the DPRK and share their perspective on any possible follow-up to the 7 February report from the commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK (A/HRC/25/63), which recommended that the Council refer the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court and impose targeted sanctions against those most responsible for crimes against humanity. The DPRK has categorically rejected the report, referring to the commission as a group of “political swindlers, marionettes of the US and the West”, and on 7 May, sent a letter to the Council (S/2014/321) providing a detailed account of alleged human rights abuses committed by the US and the Republic of Korea. Also, on 28 March, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution endorsing the commission’s report and recommending that the General Assembly submit the report to the Council for appropriate action, including consideration of a referral of the situation in the DPRK to “the appropriate international criminal justice mechanism”, and consideration of the scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity.

Widespread concern among Council members about the reported human rights abuses was evident at a 17 April “Arria-formula” meeting with the commission, when a majority of members welcomed the report and expressed support for its recommendations. (The meeting was jointly organised by Australia, Luxembourg and the US. China and Russia did not attend.) A few members also suggested in their statements that the Council could request regular briefings on the DPRK by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or expand the scope of the agenda item under which the DPRK is considered to deal with the situation in a comprehensive way and address all relevant issues. At this stage, however, given China’s expected opposition and current tensions in the Council on other files such as Syria and Ukraine, any near-term follow-up is considered unlikely. Still, some Council members may want to use the meeting tomorrow to express their concern about the human rights situation, reiterate their support for the commission’s recommendations and emphasise the connection between the DPRK’s human rights violations and its proliferation activities.

The next meeting of the Sanctions Committee is planned for early June. Preparations are also underway for the chair of the Sanctions Committee to convene an open briefing for the wider UN membership in either late June or early July.

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