Editors’ Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law. 

UN report reveals the scope of North Korean sanctions evasion

A United Nations Panel of Experts has released a report detailing efforts by North Korea to avoid UN Security Council-imposed sanctions. The report concludes that North Korea’s “nuclear and ballistic missile programmes…remain intact” and that the country “continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal.” In December 2017, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2397, which imposed a tight sanctions regime on North Korea. The Resolution notably banned the supply, sale or transfer to North Korea of “all refined petroleum products.”

Hugh Griffiths, the coordinator of the panel, has argued that the UN sanctions “are biting,” evidenced by the fact that the “only thing Kim Jong Un asked for at the Hanoi summit was to have sanctions lifted.” The panel report indicates, however, that North Korea has developed sophisticated means of avoiding international sanctions, using ship-to-ship transfers and smuggling to maintain access to critical imports. The panel decried “global banks and insurance companies” for unwittingly facilitating payments with North Korea.

North Korea has also managed to maintain key aspects of its foreign policy in spite of the UN sanctions regime. The panel noted North Korean attempts to sell arms to Houthi rebels and groups in “Libya and the Sudan.” North Korea has also engaged in “gold mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” and constructed a “military camp in Sierra Leone.” The panel concluded with a detailed set of solutions and called for countries to ensure that trading companies that are engaged in ship-to-ship transfers adopt “contractual language that includes effective end-use delivery verification.”

UN Investigators say violence in DRC could constitute crimes against humanity

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) released a report on Tuesday, which concluded that a set of December 2018 massacres in the west of the country “could constitute crimes against humanity if certain constituent elements are established.” The UN investigators visited Yumbi territory, situated in Maï-Ndombe province, in late January to investigate reports of sharp inter-ethnic violence that occurred in December 2018 between the Batende and Banunu communities.

According to the report, the catalyst for violence was a dispute over the “burial of a Banunu customary chief.” Batende villagers “equipped with firearms” targeted Banunu villagers. A New York Times piece also situated the violence against the backdrop of tensions emanating from then-President Joseph Kabila’s repeated delaying of elections. A UN spokesperson indicated, however, that the inquiry had found no “concrete” link between the elections and the December 2018 violence. The inquiry established that some 535 people has been killed, another 111 people were injured, and “947 buildings” were “pillaged or destroyed.” The report cautioned, however, that its statistics were not exhaustive. Indeed, UN officials in January indicated that the December massacres had led to some 900 deaths. Some of the deaths were particularly horrific. According to the inquiry, a two-year-old child was thrown into a septic tank. The tensions between the two communities, the inquiry warned, could also generate “new waves of violence at any moment.”

UN Special Rapporteur calls for referral of Myanmar atrocities to the ICC

Yanghee Lee presented her latest report on the human rights situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh to the Human Rights Council on Monday, calling for an end to “international inaction.” The report declared that “no positive progress has been made since the High Commissioner presented his previous report to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.” Since August 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, though “an estimated 200,000 Rohingya remain in northern Rakhine.” The Myanmar government denied Lee access to the country during her investigation.

Lee noted that the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) now has staff in Bangladesh conducting a preliminary investigation. According to Reuters, the staff will investigate whether the Rohingya exodus could result in prosecutions, despite the fact that Myanmar rejects the ICC’s jurisdiction. Lee argued that the “situation in Myanmar must be referred to the ICC by the Security Council”; “if it is not possible to refer the situation to the ICC,” Lee continued, then the international community “should consider establishing an independent tribunal.”

The situation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh could get worse in upcoming months. Lee reports that the Bangladesh government in April plans to “relocate 23,000 Rohingya refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhashan Char,” an uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal that is prone to cyclones. Rohingya activists have said that Bangladeshi officials may well have to use force to relocate the refugees, as “no one wants to be relocated to Bhashan Char.”

UN Special Rapporteur criticizes UN for operating lead-contaminated camps in Kosovo

Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics, has called on the United Nations to take “immediate action to provide justice and remedies for displaced minority communities who were housed” in lead-contaminated UN camps in Kosovo. Following the breakout of the Kosovo War and between 1999 and 2013, some “600 members of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities were placed in the camps.” The ground on which the camps were built was “contaminated by lead.” Lead poisoning is believed to have led to the deaths of several camp inhabitants and to have affected the long-term health of others. Tuncak decried the “inertia surrounding this case” and cast UN efforts as “inoperative.”

In 2016, the Human Rights Advisory Panel released its eighth report on the performance of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The report addressed the issue of lead poisoning as well as human rights violations “committed by or attributable to” the mission. The Panel criticized UNMIK heavily, arguing that despite having issued recommendations in the past, UNMIK had “followed almost none of the Panel’s recommendations.” One key recommendation the Panel made in 2016 was that the UN should arrange “compensation” to 138 individuals and “issue a public apology.” A Trust Fund was established in 2017, but “has not received any contributions from Member States.”

China prevents blacklisting of Pakistani militant

On Wednesday, China placed a technical hold on a request by the United Kingdom, United States, and France to subject Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), to an “arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze.” The United Nations designated JeM a terrorist group in October 2001, noting its close ties with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In February, JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian security officers. In response to the suicide attack, the Indian government ordered airstrikes in Pakistan, with Indian warplanes crossing the Kashmir Line of Control for the first time in decades. In response, Pakistan said it shot down two Indian military aircraft and conducted strikes in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

China’s decision to block sanctions on Azhar is in part a reflection of its close relations with Pakistan. China cooperates on a number of defense-related projects with Pakistan and prevented the UNSC’s Islamic State and al-Qaeda sanctions committee from sanctioning Azhar in 2016 and 2017. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs criticized China’s decision to issue a technical hold, noting that China’s move “prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed.”

UN coordinator condemns attacks in Western Yemen

The Office of the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen released a statement earlier this week indicating that “scores of civilians have been killed by strikes on houses in Kushar District,” which is situated in Hajjah Governorate in the west of the country. The airstrikes were conducted by the Saudi coalition. The press release reported 22 deaths and as many as 30 injuries. Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said: “It is outrageous that innocent civilians continue to die needlessly in a conflict that should, and can be solved.” Kushar has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks, which has forced some 5300 families to flee the district.

Rising violence in Kushar district also comes as implementation of the Stockholm peace deal stalls. Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy for Yemen, reported to the Security Council on Wednesday that the warring parties had made “no progress” in withdrawing their forces from the key port of Hodeida as well as from the ports of Saleef and Raf Isa. According to the Stockholm Agreement, “a mutual redeployment of forces” was to be “carried out from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa to agreed upon locations outside the city and the ports.”

IMAGE: Diplomats gather for a United Nations Security Council meeting on January 25, 2019 at the United Nations in New York. (Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)