While sanctions and falling oil prices are forecast to push Russia into a recession, other countries — namely North Korea — have been able to evade the impact of economic penalties.
North Korea's expanding international network and trade with China are key reasons why the north's economy hasn't evaporated. With sanctions largely ineffective, some are now trying to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court as a way to isolate the country.
Sanctions lobbed at the communist nation generally trickle down to hurt average citizens' ability to access food and other resources. Now a resolution circulating among the United Nations General Assembly specifically condemns North Korean leaders for committing crimes against humanity.
Plus, a bill, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, not only targets North Korean entities, but third-country parties that have either abetted or assisted the north's abuses. Those violations straddle human rights, weapons trafficking and money laundering.
Both the legislation and U.N. resolution, in particular, have caught the attention of the North Korean elite. That's because the developments target the wealthy ruling class' ability to generate cash and to source nuclear, ballistic missile and other weapons of mass destruction, all despite the current battery of sanctions on the books.
A potential referral to the international court presents more of "a real, immediate threat to the top leadership than economic sanctions or other sorts of coercive economic diplomacy, by a long shot," says Nicholas Eberstadt, senior advisor at the National Bureau of Asian Research. He's also founding director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Despite sanctions, the north's trade with China has only grown in recent years, along with the rogue state's foreign-based network of businesses and individuals. According to a U.N. panel, North Korea has cultivated a broad, complex ecosystem designed to elude scrutiny of assets and trade dealings.
The prospect of a referral to the international criminal court "appears to have touched a nerve," according to Christine Chung, a former political advisor to the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. "Allegations of crimes against humanity do not stop at one individual but implicate a cadre of leadership surrounding the current and previous supreme leaders," she wrote in a post on "38 North," a website devoted to North Korea analysis.