Updated February. 21, 2014 01:18
The southern African country of Botswana has announced it is severing diplomatic ties with North Korea with immediate effect, citing Pyongyang`s worsening human rights record.
"The Government of Botswana does not wish to be associated with a government which continues to display such total disregard for the human rights of its citizens," Botswana`s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, adding the government in Gaborone was also ending consular relations with Pyongyang.
The government made it clear that its decision was informed by the February 17 release of the United Nations report on human rights in North Korea. The report detailed "systematic, widespread and grave violations" by the North, recommending that the issue be taken to the International Court of Justice. Botswana is the first country to cut diplomatic relations with the North due to the U.N. report.
"As a member of the International Community of nations, North Korea has the responsibility for the welfare and wellbeing of its people and respect for human rights which have unfortunately for too long been seriously lacking in that country," the ministry said in the statement. However, it said the move was not targeted at North Korean people. "Botswana wishes to convey its heartfelt sympathies to the people of North Korea who are currently subjected to inhuman treatment under the leadership of Kim Jong Un."
The move came 40 years after the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1974. Currently, the African country does not have a diplomatic mission in the North, leaving diplomatic and consular duties handled to its embassy in Beijing.
The decision by Botswana, one of the few African countries where a democratic system is established, will likely have significant ripple effects. After its independence from Britain in 1966, the country established a political party system without any major internal strife. Last year, Global corruption watchdog Transparency International selected the country as the least corrupt country in Africa. Botswana is a member state of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, a club of African countries with big economic potentials.
After North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February last year, Botswana sent the first warning by suspending bilateral cooperation with the North "as the result of the threat posed by that country to international peace and security.
Experts say that if other countries follow suit, North Korea will face diplomatic isolation. China, which is opposed to taking the North Korean human rights issues to the International Court of Justice, will also likely come under significant pressure from the international community. Beijing is already burdened by the fact that the United States and international human rights groups welcome the U.N. report and are urging the international community to act.
The Associated Press reported that Botswana`s severing ties with Pyongyang could deal a big blow to North Korea, which has performed better than South Korea in diplomacy with Non-Aligned Movement countries in Africa. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, was quoted as saying that Washington could put pressure on the North to improve its human rights situations by pressuring African and Eastern European countries to reconsider their diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.