U.N. panel questions effectiveness of sanctions on North Korea, urges better implementation, broader measures


North Korea’s continued efforts to undertake prohibited nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches despite multiple rounds of sanctions call into question the United Nations’ sanctions regime, according to excerpts of a U.N. report obtained by Kyodo News.

The report also mentions a drone bearing a resemblance to Chinese-made drones that was found on a South Korean island and recommended expanding a ban on unmanned aerial vehicles, which currently are limited under Security Council resolutions.

The recommendation could put pressure on China, North Korea’s main supporter and chief supplier of goods, which appears reluctant to step up measures for fear of heightening regional tensions. The report is to be presented to the Security Council next month.

The report argues that North Korea has been “effective” in evading sanctions laid out by past resolutions, the first of which was imposed nearly a decade ago, after its first nuclear test. It also calls for blacklisting several more individuals and entities and increasing dissemination of information about the various sanctions in place.

“Given the stated intentions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its continued efforts to enhance the scope of its nuclear and missile programs, as well as to seek international acceptance and legitimacy for these prohibited programs, there are serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime,” the report says, referring to the country’s official name.

The document, produced annually by a group of experts under the Security Council’s sanctions committee on North Korea, takes note of the country’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

The Security Council is considering how to craft a new set of sanctions to respond to the latest provocation. Council members such as the United States and Japan are calling for tougher measures.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday spoke on the telephone about how to respond to the North’s recent nuclear test and planned rocket launch, amid differences between Washington and Beijing over the issue at the Security Council.

The White House said Obama and Xi underscored the importance of “a strong and united international response” to North Korean provocations, including an “impactful” resolution.

The leaders also agreed that Pyongyang’s planned ballistic missile test would represent “another provocative and destabilizing action,” according to the White House.

According to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, Obama told Xi that the United States hopes the international community will propel the Security Council to adopt “measures to cope with the situation effectively” and that the U.S. will cooperate with China on the issue.

“Xi stressed that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive,” Xinhua said. China is a major benefactor of North Korea.

Xi told Obama that China is committed to the goal of denuclearization on the peninsula and insists on a solution through dialogue and consultation, according to Xinhua.

North Korea notified U.N. agencies earlier in the week of its plan to launch an Earth observation satellite between Feb. 8 and 25 as part of its national space development program, following its fourth nuclear test.

The United States proposed at the Security Council banning oil exports to North Korea and imports of minerals from it as part of a package of new economic sanctions, which China is opposed to.

As to why the sanctions have failed to deter Pyongyang, the report cites “the low level of implementation of the resolutions” by member states. This could stem from a lack of political will, inadequate legislation and lack of understanding of the resolutions.

The panel thus encourages “nonreporting” member states to comply with their reporting obligations through regular open briefings and regional meetings.

The recommendation on expanding the export ban to include drones with an autonomous flight control and navigation capability follows the panel’s investigation into North Korean drones. They have made headlines in recent years after they crashed in the South.

According to the report, a North Korean drone with an autopilot that landed in the South bears “distinct similarities” to the UV10 produced by Beijing-based Microfly Engineering Technology Co. Microfly said in the report that the model was sold to RedChina Geosystems, which equipped it with the autopilots. It declined to identify “other buyers.”

The report points to possible intermediaries who channeled the drones to North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, a spy agency.

Drones with a range of over 300 kilometers (190 miles) and a payload of more than 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) are currently subject to the U.N. sanctions regime.

The drone that crashed into Baengnyeong island does not fit those criteria, according to last year’s Panel of Experts report. In this year’s report, however, the panel recommends blacklisting drones with an autopilot and those with reconnaissance or navigation capabilities.

The report also calls for any systems, equipment or components designed to be integrated into drones to be added to the list of prohibited items.

Member states should “exercise due diligence” when exporting commercial drones with ranges below 300 km and reconnaissance capabilities to North Korea, as they could be used for military purposes, the panel advises.

The panel also called out Ocean Maritime Management Co. — a North Korean shipping company previously blacklisted for weapons smuggling — for re-registering 14 of its 15 apparently in-service ships under new names.

Additionally, the panel said it has investigated several cases from at least eight countries that may violate the ban on luxury goods.

It is also looking into two gold bullion shipments from Ghana to North Korea, among other instances of precious metals being shipped to the country.

The document was produced by experts from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — the permanent five members of the Security Council — along with Japan, South Korea and South Africa.