UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend the mandate of the U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions on North Korea, with Russia urging its members "to correct" the negative impact of the tough measures on the lives of ordinary citizens.
Adoption of the resolution was delayed for weeks over Russia's demands that the committee address the humanitarian impact of sanctions.
Russia's deputy ambassador Vladimir Safronkov expressed concern after the vote to extend the experts' mandate until April 24, 2020 that sanctions are hurting ordinary North Koreans, especially "the most vulnerable members of society — women and children."
"We trust the committee in the immediate future will take up consideration, and will reach agreement on practical measures to correct this abnormal situation," he said.
But Britain's deputy political coordinator David Clay said North Korea and some countries "seek to blame sanctions for the humanitarian situation" when it's due to the country's policies, not sanctions.
"This includes the diversion of billions of dollars toward prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and a refusal to allow the international community to monitor aid distribution," he said.
Clay stressed that U.N. resolutions that imposed sanctions on North Korea "have been designed with exemptions intended to avoid humanitarian impacts." He said the process of humanitarian exemptions should continue to be monitored.
According to a U.N. report issued last month, an estimated 11 million people in North Korea — over 43 percent of the population — are undernourished and "chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread."
The report by Tapan Mishra, the head of the U.N. office in North Korea, said that "widespread undernutrition threatens an entire generation of children, with one in five children stunted due to chronic undernutrition."
He said that last year's U.N. appeal for $111 million to help 6 million of North Korea's most vulnerable people was only 24 percent funded, one of the lowest levels in the world.
The U.S.-drafted resolution makes no mention of the humanitarian situation but states that the "proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, continue to constitute a threat to international peace and security."
The Security Council has imposed successively tougher sanctions on North Korea to try to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
But the panel of experts said in their latest report to the Security Council in February that North Korea's nuclear and missile programs "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes.
The report said North Korea continues to defy U.N. sanctions, including through "a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal" and also continues to violate an arms embargo, a ban on luxury goods and financial sanctions.
U.S. political coordinator Rodney Hunter told the council after Wednesday's vote that the Trump administration is very concerned at Pyongyang's "increasingly sophisticated sanctions evasion trends."
He singled out its unhindered efforts to obtain refined petroleum products, its increased smuggling of coal, and its expanding global efforts "to conduct cyber thefts to make up for its export revenue losses."
Hunter urged all countries to fully implement sanctions, which he said "is critical to achieving the final, fully verified, denuclearization" of North Korea.
President Donald Trump's second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February collapsed due to disputes over sanctions, and no new talks have been scheduled.
China's deputy U.N. ambassador Wu Haitao, whose country is close to North Korea, told the Security Council after the vote that "for the dialogue to continue and make headway the key is to address the legitimate concerns of the parties concerned in a balanced manner."