North Korea Sanctions:

United States Has Increased Flexibility to Impose Sanctions, but United Nations Is Impeded by a Lack of Member State Reports

GAO-15-485: Published: May 13, 2015. Publicly Released: May 13, 2015.

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What GAO Found

U.S. executive orders (EO) and the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act target activities for the imposition of sanctions that include North Korean (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and transferring of luxury goods. The EOs and the act allow the United States to respond by imposing sanctions, such as blocking the assets of persons involved in these activities. United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions target similar North Korean activities, and under the UN Charter, all 193 UN member states are required to implement sanctions on persons involved in them.

U.S. officials informed GAO that obtaining information on North Korean persons has hindered the U.S. interagency process for imposing sanctions, and that EO 13687, announced in January 2015, provided them with greater flexibility to sanction persons based on their status as government officials rather than evidence of specific conduct. State and Treasury impose sanctions following an interagency process that involves: reviewing intelligence and other information to develop evidence needed to meet standards set by U.S. laws and EOs, vetting possible actions within the U.S. government, determining whether to sanction, and announcing sanctions decisions. Since 2006, the United States has imposed sanctions on 86 North Korean persons, including on 13 North Korean government persons under EO 13687.

Although UN sanctions have a broader reach than U.S. sanctions, the UN lacks reports from many member states describing the steps or measures they have taken to implement specified sanctions provisions. The UN process for imposing sanctions relies on a UN Security Council committee and a UN panel of experts that investigates suspected sanctions violations and recommends actions to the UN. The Panel of Experts investigations have resulted in 32 designations of North Korean or related entities for sanctions since 2006, including a company found to be shipping armaments from Cuba in 2013. While the UN calls upon all member states to submit reports detailing plans for implementing specified sanctions provisions, fewer than half have done so because of a range of factors including a lack of technical capacity. The committee uses the reports to uncover gaps in sanctions implementation and identify member states that require additional outreach. The United States as a member state has submitted all of these reports. UN and U.S. officials agree that the lack of reports from all member states is an impediment to the UN's implementation of its sanctions.

Shipment of Arms Found Concealed on North Korean Vessel Chong Chon Gang

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Source: GAO | GAO-15-485

Why GAO Did This Study

North Korea is a closely controlled society, and its regime has taken actions that threaten the United States and other United Nations member states. North Korean tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have prompted the United States and the UN to impose sanctions on North Korea.

GAO was asked to review U.S. and UN sanctions on North Korea. This report (1) identifies the activities that are targeted by U.S. and UN sanctions specific to North Korea, (2) describes how the United States implements its sanctions specific to North Korea and examines the challenges it faces in doing so, and (3) describes how the UN implements its sanctions specific to North Korea and examines the challenges it faces in doing so. To answer these questions, GAO analyzed documents from the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce, and the UN. GAO also interviewed officials from the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce, and the UN.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends the Secretary of State work with the UN Security Council to ensure that member states receive technical assistance to help prepare and submit reports on their implementation of UN sanctions on North Korea. The Department of State concurred with this recommendation.

For more information, contact Thomas Melito at (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of State agrees with the recommendation and already works closely with many other UN Member States on the implementation of the North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs), and strongly urges all States to submit their implementation reports called for in the UNSCRs. Submission of a national implementation report is, however, only one action among many that State can and should take to strengthen its implementation of the UNSCRs. GAO will continue monitoring State's efforts to address the recommendation. Meanwhile, this recommendation contributed to a law aimed in part at addressing this deficiency. On February 18, 2016, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America enacted the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, 114 P.L. 122. Sec. 202 (a) of the act restated the findings of GAO-15-485. Section (c) of the act specified that the President shall direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to improve international implementation and enforcement of United Nations North Korea-specific sanctions and that the strategy should include elements to (1) increase the number of countries submitting reports to the UN, including developing a list of targeted countries where effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations sanctions would reduce the threat from North Korea, and (2) provide technical assistance to member states to implement UN sanctions. The President signed the bill into law on February 18, 2016.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should work with the UN Security Council to ensure that member states receive technical assistance to help prepare and submit reports on their implementation of UN sanctions on North Korea.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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