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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution to renew the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee for another 13 months.  

The panel’s final report is expected to be sent to the Council in mid-March. 

Key Recent Developments

The DPRK participated in the Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea (ROK), following inter-Korean talks on 9 January, which focused on the DPRK’s participation in the Olympics. The DPRK and ROK marched under a unified flag and fielded a joint women’s hockey team. The DPRK sent a delegation of around 280 people, led by Kim Yong-Nam, the country’s nominal head of state. The delegation included a number of high-level officials, including Kim Yeo-Jong, the sister of DPRK’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un. On 10 February, the day after the start of the Olympics, the DPRK invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. At the closing ceremony, the North Korean delegation met with Moon and expressed a willingness to meet with the US.

On 9 February, Secretary-General António Guterres met briefly with Kim Yong-Nam during the opening of the Winter Olympics. Guterres reiterated his hope that all parties would use dialogue to achieve peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and offered the UN’s assistance. Earlier in February, ahead of the opening of the Olympic games, Guterres had said that it was “absolutely essential” for the key players to build on the thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Seoul and to hold serious discussions on the nuclear crisis. 

At the Munich Security Conference on 17 February, Guterres once again stressed the importance of not missing the opportunity of a peaceful resolution through diplomatic engagement and said that a military solution would be a disaster and would have “catastrophic consequences”.

On 20 February, the ROK Defense Ministry said that plans for the postponed military exercises with the US would be announced by the end of March. The drills, which were originally expected to be held during March, were postponed to improve the political climate ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 9 February, the chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands), held a briefing with the Panel of Experts’ coordinator, Hugh Griffiths, that was open to all UN member states. Van Oosterom focused on the national implementation reports and the need for effective implementation of the sanctions measures in the two most recent resolutions, 2375 and 2397. (Van Oosterom’s presentation is posted on the committee’s website.) He noted that although there has been a significant increase in the submission rate of implementation reports, a large number of member states still had not submitted their reports, and he reminded member states to do so in a timely manner. The deadline for member states to report on measures undertaken to implement sanctions imposed in resolution 2375 was 10 December 2017, and 52 members had submitted reports. The deadline for reports from resolution 2397 is 22 March, and as of early February, only one country had submitted its report. Griffiths’ briefing focused on where the two resolutions established new specific provisions, where they clarified and strengthened existing measures, and where they introduced new measures.

The 1718 Committee met on 21 February to discuss the final report of the Panel of Experts. It seems that while most members were open to the recommendations of the panel, China expressed  some reluctance to move forward on them. The majority of members were concerned about the lack of implementation of the sanctions and in agreement that the recommendations should be seriously considered. Another issue that was raised was the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions and the need for OCHA to update the Committee more regularly.

Van Oosterom briefed Council members in consultations on the quarterly report on 26 February . Among the areas that were covered in the discussion were the final report of the panel and the need for full implementation of all Council resolutions.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The Human Rights Council (HRC) will hold an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, and consider his report during its 37th session in March (A/HRC/37/69). The HRC will also consider the report of the special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities on her visit to the DPRK from 3 to 8 May 2017 (A/HRC/37/56/Add.1). According to the latter report, the recent Security Council resolutions condemning the country’s pursuit of ballistic and nuclear weapons and strengthening sanctions has led to the country’s becoming increasingly isolated, which directly affects persons with disabilities.

Key Issues and Options

The key issue for the Council is how to lessen tensions in the Korean peninsula. In light of the first signs of a thaw in relations between North and South Korea in years, a related issue is what role the Council can play to encourage the resumption of dialogue. One option for the Council would be to follow up the 10 January elements to the press after a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča on the inter-Korean talks with a more formal product, encouraging confidence and trust-building measures to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Finding the right balance between applying pressure through sanctions and exploring the diplomatic track continues to be an issue. Although the majority of members appear willing to consider ways of bringing the DPRK to the table, the US may be less willing to move from a policy of “maximum pressure” to considering diplomatic options.

An overarching issue related to sanctions is making them more effective. It seems the final report of the panel indicates that in spite of the complex sanctions regime imposed on the DPRK, it is still earning significant revenue from exporting coal, iron and steel, among other banned commodities.

A connected issue is getting agreement in the sanctions committee on the recommendations contained in the panel’s final report. The need for consensus in sanctions committee decisions has led in the past to great difficulty in obtaining agreement on a number of the panel’s recommendations. This time, recommendations on financial sanctions, interdiction and listings are expected to be particularly divisive. If there are recommendations that could improve the implementation of sanctions but may not be accepted by the committee, a discussion at Council level about the panel’s recommendations may be needed. Additionally, further discussion about the role the committee could play in outreach to member states as well as the type of assistance needed to enforce sanctions may be useful.

While the implementation of sanctions continues to be a serious issue, the renewal of the panel’s mandate is not expected to be controversial. The resolution renewing the mandate has barely changed over the years, and members do not expect it to be any different this year. 

An issue related to the panel is whether, given the increasing complexity of the sanctions regime and the new requirements, there is a need to increase the number of experts on the panel to cover newer areas such as maritime interdiction. Currently there are eight experts covering: missile issues and other technologies; air transport; customs and export controls; finance and economics; nuclear issues; maritime transport; non-proliferation, procurement and trade; and other weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms.

The need to mitigate the humanitarian impact of sanctions continues to be a concern of several Council members. The committee could work more closely with OCHA to try to obtain the information it needs for humanitarian exemptions. Another option would be to consider adding an expert on humanitarian issues to the panel who could monitor the impact of sanctions on the civilian population. 

Council Dynamics

The current thaw in relations between the DPRK and the ROK as a result of the DPRK’s participation in the Winter Olympics is seen as encouraging by those who would like a greater focus on possible diplomatic options. However, there is also some scepticism about whether the DPRK is ready to suspend missile tests in order to pursue serious dialogue on denuclearisation of the peninsula. Members are waiting to see whether the DPRK will resume missile testing after the Paralympics conclude in mid-March. The DPRK has warned that joint military exercises between ROK and the US would be seen as a provocative act that would endanger any reconciliation efforts. 

The Netherlands, which took over as the chair of the sanctions committee in January, has said that one of its areas of focus will be how to make the sanctions work better. It plans to hold meetings with the regional groups in the coming months.

The US continues to generally advocate maximum pressure through punitive means, imposing new sanctions on 24 January targeting largely Chinese and DPRK companies, shipping firms and vessels. On 23 February it sanctioned one person, 27 companies and 28 ships. In addition, it proposed new listings under UN sanctions.  At the same time, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that he would keep the channels of communication open with the DPRK. 

The détente between the two Koreas appears to have strengthened the Chinese position on the need for dialogue and consultation on the Korean Peninsula. 

UN Documents on the DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
22 December 2017 S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
11 September 2017 S/RES/2375 This resolution expanded sanctions to additional sectors of the North Korean economy in response to the DPRK’s nuclear test.
5 August 2017 S/RES/2371 This resolution condemned the 3 and 28 July ballistic missile launches.
2 June 2017 S/RES/2356 This was a resolution condemning the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development activities, including missile launches, conducted by the DPRK in flagrant disregard of relevant Council resolutions since 9 September 2016.
Security Council Presidential Statements
29 August 2017 S/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
15 December 2017 S/PV.8137 This was a ministerial-level meeting on the “Threats and Challenges posed by the DPRK to International Peace and Security”, with Secretary-General António Guterres briefing and Japanese Foreign Minister Tarō Kōno chairing. The DPRK and Republic of Korea participated under Rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Council.
22 December 2017 S/PV.8151 The Council adopted resolution 2397 tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
11 December 2017 S/PV.8130 This was the fourth meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
Security Council Letters
1 December 2017 S/2017/1006 This was a letter from the Permanent Representatives of France, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK, the US and Uruguay requesting a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
8 December 2017 SC/13113 This was the press release from the 1718 Sanctions Committee ahead of its 11 December meeting.