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Canada - Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

North Korea

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).

North Korea is the only country to have carried out nuclear tests in the 21st century. It first claimed to have tested a nuclear weapon in 2006; however, the “first nuclear crisis” began earlier when North Korea declared its unilateral withdrawal from the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in March 1993. Negotiations that followed between the United States and North Korea led to the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, but tensions rose again in 2002 (the “second nuclear crisis”) when North Korea admitted to developing highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons. Against this backdrop, 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 process has remained 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 these talks broke down, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and dozens of ballistic missile launches in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions. Among the most recent violations were North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on September 3, 2017; ballistic missile overflights of Japan in August and September of 2017; and inter-continental ballistic missile tests in July and November of 2017. North Korea also launched or attempted to launch a number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during 2016 and 2017.

Bilateral Relations

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. They are maintained through the Embassy of Canada in Seoul (cross-accredited to North Korea), and North Korea’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Sweden acts as Canada’s protecting power in Pyongyang.

Canada is gravely concerned by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and has urged North Korea to cease all related activities, resume adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, comply with its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, verifiably and irreversibly denuclearize, and resume dialogue toward a negotiated, political solution to the nuclear issue.

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. 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.

In addition, in August 2011, the Government of Canada imposed autonomous economic sanctions against North Korea under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) for aggressive actions which represented a grave breach of international peace and security. The SEMA sanctions include: 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. Some exceptions are made for the provision of humanitarian goods. These sanctions are in addition to those imposed by the UN Security Council.

Increased missile and nuclear testing by North Korea in 2016 and 2017 resulted in a number of successive UN Security Council resolutions strengthening UN sanction measures. Canada has incorporated the necessary measures of all relevant UNSC resolutions into domestic legislation under the United Nations Act.  

For additional information on sanctions against North Korea, please consult the website Canadian Economic Sanctions – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Human Rights

Canada remains very 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 human rights issues, 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, noting the sobering findings of the COI’s final report, urging North Korea to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, and emphasizing accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations. Canada continues to support resolutions on North Korea at the UN General Assembly, as well as to co-sponsor the annual resolution at the UN Human Rights Council: “The situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

On June 20, 2016, Canada’s Senate Committee on Human Rights tabled a report on human rights of North Korean defectors, which recommended certain actions for the Canadian Government.  A detailed government response was tabled in November 2016. In May 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities Catalina Devandas Aguilar visited North Korea. She was the first UN Human Rights Council-designated expert to visit North Korea.

Humanitarian Assistance

North Korea has suffered widespread food shortages during the past two decades. Since 2005, Canada has provided over $33 million to support the international humanitarian response in North Korea. Canada’s humanitarian assistance funding is channeled through experienced multilateral 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 nor to North Korean organizations. Canada closely monitors this multilateral programming through interactions with partners and through regular and ongoing reporting.

January 2018


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Date Modified:
2018-01-15