posted on Fri 27 Mar 2020 9:35 PM
1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee: Panel of Experts Mandate Renewal

On Monday (30 March), the Security Council is expected to extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the work of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee. The text draws heavily on the language of the most recent mandate renewal resolution, in this case resolution 2464 from April 2019. Under normal circumstances this would be a draft resolution voted on in the Council chamber. However, due to the impact of COVID-19, and with members unable to agree on video-conferencing modalities for voting, the Council has decided to vote through written adoption procedures. Members are currently submitting their votes to the Security Council Affairs Division. China, as Council president this month, is expected to read out the results during one of the informal videoconference sessions on Monday.

The draft resolution extends the mandate of the Panel until 30 April 2021 and sets out the timeline for the Panel’s submission of its midterm and final reports to the Council, September 2020 and March 2021 respectively.

The US, the penholder on the DPRK, circulated the initial text of the draft resolution to all Council members on 11 March, calling for a two-day comment period. It seems that no member provided comments on the draft. Given the primarily routine technical questions that the text addresses, there were no further negotiations among Council members on it.

In March 2019, the vote on the draft resolution for the Panel of Experts’ mandate renewal was postponed for several weeks. The US and Russia disagreed over mentioning the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and over Russia’s request that OCHA report periodically to the Council on this issue. As a compromise, committee members agreed to address the humanitarian situation in the DPRK within the committee and hold informal briefings by OCHA there every six months. OCHA held such an informal meeting with the committee on 2 December 2019.

The final report of Panel was discussed first in the committee in February, as mandated by resolution 2464. It appears that no major issues were raised during the committee’s discussions that would impede the publication of the report by the mandated due date of 6 March. The final report has yet to be made public, however. It appears that the delay is caused by issues with translation of the report to all six official UN languages and that this process should be completed in April.

According to some media outlets claiming to have seen the report, the DPRK has continued unabated violation of the sanctions regime, most notably through illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and coal, the proliferation of weapons, and cyber-attacks. These findings appear to be similar to the conclusions of the Panel’s midterm report published in September 2019. The Panel has drawn attention to the increased sophistication of the DPRK’s use of cyber-attacks, which according to some estimates have generated around $2 billion of revenue for the DPRK.

Deep divisions among the permanent members mark Council dynamics on DPRK sanctions. China and Russia have been advocating for partial sanctions relief, given their concern over the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the country. On the other hand, the US has supported a policy of maximum pressure in the Council and has made any consideration of sanctions relief contingent on concrete steps by the DPRK towards denuclearization.

During recent informal consultations and in the 1718 Sanctions Committee, members seem to have also discussed the possible negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the already fragile humanitarian situation in the DPRK. In this context, there appears to be a consensus among members that the committee should accelerate the process for considering requests for humanitarian exceptions. The committee’s decisions are made by consensus and may be taken by a written “no-objection procedure” within five working days. It seems that members have agreed to shorten the decision-making period on humanitarian exceptions to a two-day no-objection procedure. The DPRK has said that it has no recorded cases of COVID-19, a claim that is disputed by many international experts. China and South Korea, both sharing a border with the DPRK, are among the countries that have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement issued on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for an easing of sanctions on countries facing the COVID-19 pandemic in order to support their medical systems to contain further outbreak. She mentioned the DPRK as one of the cases where sanctions might impede medical efforts in this regard.

During March, the DPRK has intensified activities related to the testing of ballistic missiles and other projectiles. On 5 March, the Council met under “any other business” to raise concerns over the ballistic missile test conducted on 1 March. The DPRK has since conducted several additional ballistic missile tests, the latest one on 23 March.