posted on Wed 10 Apr 2019 1:56 PM
DPRK Panel of Experts: Mandate Renewal

This afternoon (10 April), following the meeting on Libya, the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the work of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee. The draft resolution follows closely the language of the most recent mandate renewal in resolution 2407. It will extend the mandate of the Panel until 24 April 2020, while requesting it to submit midterm and final reports to the Council by September 2019 and March 2020, respectively.

The US, which is the penholder on the DPRK, seems to have intended to put the draft resolution to a vote in late March, in line with resolution 2407 in which the Council expressed its intent to review the mandate of the Panel and take appropriate action no later than 24 March. However, it appears that in initial discussions between the US and Russia, prior to the text being circulated to all Council members, a disagreement arose on the draft, delaying the circulation (and adoption) of the resolution. It seems that Russia wanted to include references to the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and a request for biannual briefings by OCHA to the Council on this specific issue. The US reportedly indicated that such humanitarian issues should not be addressed in a “technical” resolution renewing the Panel’s mandate. The permanent members, primarily the US and Russia, seem to have engaged on a bilateral level to address the difference, and to have reached a compromise to vote on a resolution rolling over the current mandate while addressing humanitarian issues in the DPRK related to the sanctions regime at the committee level. The committee members, for their part, seemed to have agreed in principle to hold periodic briefings by OCHA on the humanitarian situation and to discuss within the committee the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation, although this is subject to final approval until tomorrow.

The adoption comes after the 12 March publication of the final report of the Panel of Experts (S/2019/171). In line with resolution 2407, the final report was first transmitted to the committee in early February, where it was discussed later the same month. It appears that the committee’s discussions were not contentious and that no major issues were raised that would prevent the report’s publication. This represents a departure from the previous failure to reach consensus to publish the Panel’s midterm report in September 2018. At the time, the US objected to the mid-term report’s publication, claiming that Russia had interfered with the work of the Panel, an accusation Russia denied. Then US ambassador Nikki Haley accused Russia of pressuring the Panel to modify its report, which described sanctions violations by some Russian actors. This is thus the first report of the Panel publicly available since March 2018.

Although 2018 was marked by the absence of ballistic missile testing by the DPRK and high-level diplomatic engagement, the final report notes that the DPRK has continued to violate sanctions imposed by the Council. The Panel details, for example, activities related to illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal by the DPRK.

During mid-2018, the US drew attention to illicit ship-to-ship transfers, citing evidence suggesting that the DPRK had breached the limit of the 500,000 barrels of oil it was allowed to procure in 2018 under the sanctions regime. Russia questioned the data provided by the US on this matter. In its final report, the Panel notes that while it had insufficient evidence and data to substantiate the US claims, it could with certainty confirm a substantial increase in cases involving illicit ship-to-ship transfers. Furthermore, the report notes the DPRK’s continued violations of the arms embargo, including attempts to supply weapons to armed groups in Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

Among the wide range of sanctions imposed by the Council on the DPRK in 2017, the restrictive measures targeting the country’s financial activity have continued to be among the least implemented, according to the report. In addition, the report notes that the DPRK has engaged in cyber-attacks, forcing illicit transfer of funds from financial institutions and employing cryptocurrency exchanges. According to the Panel, the use of cryptocurrency has made tracing financial activity even harder. In considering future restrictive financial measures, the Panel recommends that the Council bear in mind the use of cyber-attacks as a tool of sanctions evasion.

A number of Council members have expressed concern over the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. As of the start of this year, the sanctions committee has approved a total of 18 humanitarian exemptions allowing various aid organisations to supply items to address specific humanitarian needs in the country. In one of the recommendations in its final report, the Panel suggests that the committee address requests for humanitarian exemptions in a timely manner, with an aim of expediting such requests.