Statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen as Chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee in the Security Council VTC briefings by subsidiary organs, December 16

16.12.2020 - Speech

In two weeks, I will complete my mandate as Chair of the 1718 sanctions committee on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK for short.

Let me start with a warning. The media coverage on the threat posed by the nuclear and ballistic missile programs of the DPRK to international peace and security has not garnered the same public attention in recent years, but the absence of bad news is not good news. We have not seen a nuclear test conducted by North Korea since 2017. The last ballistic missile launch was in the spring. Yet Pyongyang continues to build a nuclear arsenal that poses a threat to its neighbors and could have devastating global consequences.

The ballistic missile program continues in full force. Only two months ago, the DPRK showcased a new intercontinental ballistic missile during a military parade in Pyongyang. When it comes to the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missiles, North Korea remains the most dangerous global threat.

Germany’s position concerning the DPRK has been steadfast throughout our time on the Council. We have pushed for the DPRK to fulfil its obligation for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of its WMD and ballistic missile programmes (CVID). That pressure on Pyongyang must continue.

My presentation today is a rare opportunity for the wider UN membership and the public at large to get a glimpse into the work of the 1718 Committee and the Security Council, as meetings on the DPRK are traditionally held behind closed doors. There are good arguments for doing it this way, as closed meetings allow Security Council members to engage in a more open and informal manner which would not be possible if the meetings were public. I only mention this because I would not want the closed setting to be inferred as a lack of awareness of the magnitude of the threat posed by North Korea and its blatant and egregious human rights violations.

In the past two years, the way Pyongyang has navigated the geopolitical landscape has changed, but its intentions have not. The absence of major provocations does not mean we are closer to a political solution. The government of Kim Jong-Un refuses to engage meaningfully. And unless that changes, there is no justification for the Security Council to change current sanctions measures.

Today, I would like to make three main points. First, I will report on the work of the Committee over the past two years. I will then offer observations on the way the Security Council and its sanctions committees conduct business in general. And thirdly, my thoughts on what changes are needed to improve the sanctions system down the line.

Taking stock of the Committee’s work, the balance sheet shows mixed results. We have been able to uphold the current sanctions system but the Committee has not been able to reach consensus on adding new persons or entities to the sanctions list despite ample evidence that individuals and private companies continue to circumvent sanctions.

Since 2017, a large number of raw materials, industrial machinery, and other items that could be used for illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain barred from being shipped to the DPRK.

Given the small number of countries which have reported on the repatriation of DPRK nationals that are exploited as cheap laborers abroad, I would like to remind all member states of this obligation. An overview of Security Council resolutions that require national reporting by member states can be found on the website of the Committee.

The import of refined petroleum products remains limited to 500.000 barrels per year. This issue has been a major sticking point in the work of the committee but I will get back to that a bit later.

The Panel of experts that assists the 1718 sanctions committee publishes reports twice a year. The reports contain recommendations on who and what should be added to the sanctions list. For example, there is widespread evidence of ship to ship transfers of gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products on the high seas. The vessel on the receiving end then travels to a North Korean port, often Nampo, and unloads its illegal cargo. We know the names of these vessels, the names of the individuals and the companies that own these ships – but there are still members on the Committee who prevent us from taking action. This calls into serious question a key rule governing the work of committees – that is the principle that decisions are made by consensus. 

You may have heard criticism that the Committee does not care enough about human suffering in the DPRK. The opposite is true. The Committee has gone to great lengths to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the women, men, and children who are deprived of basic necessities. Since mid-2018, we the Committee managed to grant over 75 different humanitarian exemptions in support of a wide range of UN agencies and NGOs. But as we learned from those familiar with the situation on the ground, including OCHA (the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), goods that are earmarked for humanitarian purposes pile up on the border between China and the DPRK because Pyongyang does not allow it through, citing COVID as the reason. So while the Committee has done its part to ensure that aid reaches the people of the DPRK, the responsibility now lies with the government.

At the end of my tenure, we simplified and improved the mechanism for humanitarian actors to obtain exemptions to the sanctions on humanitarian grounds. With the updated Implementation Assistance Notice Number 7 (IAN7), the Committee grants humanitarian actors longer standard exemption periods – 9 months, compared with 6 months, among other things. This is a small success, but adequately addresses concerns within the humanitarian community.

As I alluded to earlier, one issue has haunted the Committee for more than 2 years.

The restrictions on delivery of gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and other refined petroleum products to the DPRK have been largely ineffective since they were unanimously adopted by the Council in December 2017. Resolution 2397 limits the delivery of such products to 500.000 barrels per year. It is the duty of all member states, together with the UN secretariat, to ensure this number is not exceeded. One would think this is simple. Member states report their planned deliveries in the measurement used by the resolution – barrels. The UN Secretariat counts them and gives notice to the international community before the oil cap is about to be reached.

But in practice, some member states insist on reporting in tons – not barrels. This would not be a problem if they would agree to allow the UN secretariat to make the conversion – nothing more than simple math. Yet these Council members argue that finding a conversion rate is very complex. In effect, these states have consistently circumvented the resolution they have agreed to. The Committee had several meetings which were dedicated to resolving this issue. We even brought it into the Council twice, where again we found no solution. In a last ditch effort, I invited the key Ambassadors to a meeting to resolve the issue. But two of the Ambassador declined joining me to find a solution. We even offered to use simple corporate conversion tables, like that of Gazprom or BP, but also these proposals were declined.

It seems inconceivable that a country that sent the first satellite into orbit more than 60 years ago and another that celebrated a moon landing just two weeks ago would not be able to do this simple calculation. This matter can be resolved if there is political will. I would urge my successor, whoever that will be, to continue pressing this important matter. It is our duty to make this work, as is the case with the implementation of all other sanctions, and the Council’s credibility is on the line. I can only tell my successor, even if you are personally attacked, do not give up. We as the E10 have been voted into the Security Council to defend international law and the United Nations. We have to take a stand to implement what the Security Council has decided.

Second, allow me a few words on the way the Council conducts business with regard to sanctions. Committees are vital for ensuring that the Council can address threats to international peace and security. Sanctions may not always be popular, but they remain an indispensable tool for guiding governments and other political actors towards peacefully resolving disputes that may impact the security of entire regions and beyond.  Chairing a sanctions committee requires stamina and determination. The elected ten (E10) shoulder a heavy burden in this regard. I commend all Chairs and their teams who are instrumental to the success of the work of the Security Council.

Two years ago, my predecessor as Chair of the 1718 committee, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom from the Netherlands, raised the issue of burden-sharing in his parting remarks. I echo his sentiment. It is time that the non-elected members of this Council assume their fair share. It may not be suitable for a permanent member – P5 – to chair the DPRK sanctions committee, but this is not the case for other sanctions committees. My team and I are liaising with representatives of the incoming five members to make sure that whoever my successor may be is prepared when they take over as Chair on January the 1st. At this point, I would like to thank our Senior Committee Secretary, Davey McNab, and his outstanding team at SCAD who supported my mission every day. You have been great partners for the entire team at the German mission. We are grateful for your professionalism and profound expertise.

My third point is what needs to change within the UN sanctions system. Two years on the Council is not very long – but it is long enough to observe the deficiencies.

One obvious shortcoming is the working conditions of the members of the Panels of Experts. They play an indispensable role for the functioning of the UN Security Council sanctions system, but when it comes to remuneration, benefits, travel arrangements, and other aspects of the job, they are treated as second class to permanent UN staff. This needs to change.

Although not a part of the North Korea sanctions committee, I would be remiss if I did not call out the situation regarding the Ombudsperson for the 1267 Committee on ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida. The Ombudsperson works under the same conditions as the experts mentioned above. But his reliance on others to carry out his work – including deciding when to travel, and where to hear witnesses – could be seen to compromise his independence. What is more: As things stand now, there is a real risk that courts will refuse to enforce sanctions in their jurisdictions. The Council needs to strengthen the institution of the Ombudsperson and take it as a model for comparable safeguards and ways of redress in all UN sanctions regimes.

During the outreach we made to the wider UN membership, it became clear that many countries were either unaware or felt put upon by the obligations imposed on them under UN Security Council sanctions. I would encourage the UN to provide information and training so that all member states are aware of and able to fulfill their obligations.

I would like to close by thanking my team. Lila Del Colle from the Netherlands whom we were lucky to get after she had served in a similar position under my predecessor and who has been an excellent addition to our team, and Christoph Braner from the German mission who has supported me in my work every step of the way. This way was a difficult one.

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