The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is an authoritarian state governed by the Korean Workers’ Party under the dynastic leadership of Kim Il Sung (1948-1994), his son Kim Jong Il (1994-2011), and his grandson Kim Jong Un (2011–present). North Korea declared itself a state in 1948. Its current border with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) — running diagonally across the 38th parallel — was defined under the armistice agreement that brought an end to hostilities in the Korean War (1950-1953).
Canada recognized the Republic of Korea in 1949 and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2000. Diplomatic relations between Canada and North Korea were established in 2001. However, North Korea’s aggressive actions in 2010 led Canada to impose tight restrictions on the relationship in October of the same year. Specifically, the Government of Canada announced the adoption of a Controlled Engagement Policy toward North Korea, which remains in place today. Under this policy, official bilateral contact with the North Korean government is limited to subjects concerning: (1) regional security concerns; (2) the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea; (3) inter-Korean relations; and (4) consular issues. All government-to-government cooperation and communication on topics not covered under the Controlled Engagement Policy has been suspended.
In addition, in August 2011, the Government of Canada imposed economic sanctions against North Korea under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA), as its aggressive actions represented a grave breach of international peace and security. The SEMA sanctions provide for, among other things: an import and export ban; a ban on all new investment in North Korea; and, a ban on the provision of financial services to North Korea and to persons in North Korea. There are some exceptions, including for the provision of humanitarian goods. These sanctions were in addition to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and implemented in Canadian law.
For additional information on sanctions against North Korea, please consult the website Canadian Economic Sanctions – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Canada remains concerned about North Korea’s egregious human rights violations, and has been outspoken in advocating for an improvement in the protection of human rights in North Korea. Canada has regularly called on North Korea to address issues of human rights, urging it to abide by international human rights standards and to allow visits by UN Special Rapporteurs. In March 2013, Canada co-sponsored the Human Rights Council resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea and renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea. At the United Nations General Assembly in November 2014, Canada co-sponsored a resolution expressing serious concern with the human rights situation in North Korea, which took note of the sobering findings of the COI’s final report, urged North Korea to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, and emphasized the need to ensure accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations. Canada co-sponsored the UN General Assembly resolution on the Situation of Human Rights again in November 2015.
North Korea has suffered acute food shortages during the past two decades. Between 2005 and 2015, Canada has provided over $28 million in humanitarian assistance funding to support the international humanitarian response in North Korea. Canada’s humanitarian assistance funding is channelled through experienced international multilateral humanitarian partners such as the UN World Food Programme and UNICEF, whose work is guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Canada does not provide any humanitarian assistance funding to the Government of North Korea. Canada closely monitors this multilateral programming through interactions with partners and field visits when circumstances allow.
Negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula began in 2003 under the framework of the Six-Party Talks, which include China (Chair), North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. The Six-Party Talks covered phased denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, economic aid to North Korea, the eventual normalization of Pyongyang’s relations with the United States and Japan, and a peace and security architecture for Northeast Asia. The process has stalled since North Korea’s announcement on April 14, 2009, that it would no longer acknowledge the Six-Party Talks, and that it was embarking on a path of re-nuclearization.
Since then, North Korea has engaged in numerous strategic provocations, including a fourth nuclear test on January 6, 2016, a long-range missile launch on February 7, 2016, and an attempted submarine-based missile launch on April 23, 2016. During this period, North Korea also launched or attempted to launch a number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
While North Korea has periodically indicated willingness to resume dialogue on nuclear issues without pre-conditions, the country has not taken concrete steps toward denuclearization, a key stumbling block for the resumption of talks. Canada continues to support peaceful negotiation, including via the Six-Party talks, as the only way to resolve peace and security issues on the Korean peninsula.