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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The UN committee overseeing sanctions on North Korea approved over twice the number of humanitarian exemption requests in 2019 than in the previous year, but did not approve any new designations of violating entities, according to an annual report released in recent days.
The 1718 Sanctions Committee under the UN Security Council (UNSC) stated in their 2019 report that it approved 38 exemptions for aid organizations and representing countries throughout the year, compared to just 15 approved in 2018 amid complaints of U.S. obstruction.
The higher number of humanitarian exemption approvals last year followed the U.S. announcing in December 2018 that it would review its policy to address what the UN had called the “unintended impact of sanctions” in six related areas.
These were, according to a March 2019 report from the Panel of Experts (PoE) under the committee: “delays in receiving exemptions; the collapse of the banking channel; delays in customs clearance; a decrease in willing foreign suppliers; the increased cost of humanitarian-related items and operations; and diminished funding for operations.”
The most recent UNSC sanctions on North Korea were passed in late December 2017, while additional guidelines for submitting humanitarian exemption requests were released by the 1718 Committee in August 2018.
Each exemption request requires a consensus vote by the 15 UNSC members in the committee, where each member state — five permanent veto-wielding members and 10 rotating non-permanent members — are also able to put the request on hold.
The committee’s rules further state that details of each exemption, once approved, are posted to the UN website for six months unless an organization requests the approval not be made public.
NK News and sister-site NK Pro have reported on each of the 38 approvals in 2019, however, as well as two extensions of previously-approved requests, appearing to suggest no aid groups sought to prevent publication of their work last year.
In addition to humanitarian requests, the committee’s annual report said it had “responded to a[n exemption] request from a Member State, in accordance with paragraph 8 of resolution 2371 (2017),” referring to the ban on DPRK exports of coal, iron, and iron ore.
The request was with regards to “the prohibition on joint ventures or cooperative entities set out in paragraph 18 of resolution 2375.”
The nature of the request, and how the committee responded, is unclear, though there is already a built-in exemption in the text of both measures for the “Russia-DPRK Rajin-Khasan port and rail project solely to export Russia-origin coal,” managed by the RasonConTrans JV.
In their 2018 annual report, the committee said it had approved a request in relation to the same measures barring joint ventures.
NO NEW DESIGNATIONS
Another aspect of the committee’s work — designating entities and vessels found to be in violation of existing sanctions resolutions — appears to have seen new opposition or even obstruction in 2019.
At the end of 2018, the committee reported that “there were 80 individuals and 75 entities on the sanctions list of the Committee,” with a single individual and 21 entities added during the year.
The recently-released report on 2019, however, states the same totals, highlighting the fact that no new individuals or entities were designated.
One former member of the PoE reported late last year just after leaving her role that the lack of new designations was due to some UNSC members intentionally putting holds on and blocking requests.
Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a U.S. panel member who left the position in September 2019, wrote for 38 North in October that “Member States in the Committee now almost reflexively put on hold and then block the requests of other Member States to list a new individual or entity, and have dispensed with the previous practice of including a justification.”
She said that China and Russia had “piloted and perfected this tactic,” while also blaming the U.S. for similar tactics with regards to votes on approving humanitarian exemptions up until late 2018.
Kleine-Ahlbrandt wrote that this state of affairs was one of a few factors leading her to believe the 1718 committee has lost its ability to enforce sanctions or use sanctions as a tool to reign in certain activities by North Korea.
The lack of new designations in 2019 coincided with China and Russia promoting support for North Korea in the form of a joint ‘roadmap’ that would see sanctions relief at the UN as part of phased concessions by both Washington and Pyongyang in ongoing denuclearization talks.
The two countries took the plan a step further in mid-December by introducing a resolution at the UNSC claiming satisfaction with previous DPRK concessions, and which would lift sanctions on a number of export sectors as well as the ban on DPRK overseas workers, which fully went into effect just a week later.
OTHER REPORT DETAILS
The committee said that in 2019 it “sent 303 communications to 90 Member States and other stakeholders with reference to the implementation of the sanctions measures,” compared with the “358 communications to 132 Member States and other stakeholders” in 2018.
The PoE also sent a roughly similar number of communications over the two years: “323 letters to 174 Member States, the Committee and international and national entities” in 2019, compared to 387 letters the previous year.
In its fieldwork, the Panel of Experts visited many of the same countries as in previous years, including staple destinations in the U.S., UK, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, and South Korea.
One new destination was Fiji, while a notable omission for 2019 was China, where the panel had visited for consultations in each of the previous four years.
Edited by James Fretwell