Botswana’s United Nations Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae has been caught up in a racism row after North Korean officials making first appearance at a United Nations human rights hearing referred to him as “that black bastard.”
The alleged racial statement was uttered at the special session featuring an exchange between Kim Ju Song, advisor for political affairs at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s mission to the UN, and Michael Kirby, the retired Australian judge who headed a recent UN commission of inquiry into North Korean human rights abuses.
The UN commission released a report in March that cited forced labour, starvation, persecution of religious believers, and a massive network of political prisons holding up to 120,000 people among various violations and crimes against humanity committed by North Korea’s government.
Following the release and publication of the report, Botswana broke off diplomatic relations with North Korea.
In an interview with Vice News Agency Ntwaagae said “I am not the least bit bothered by whatever insult they may have hurled at me.”
“What is important is everyone recognises the report of the commission of inquiry makes grim reading. What is important is that they are challenged to rebut the findings of the report.”
North Korea’s government, said Ntwaagae, is unable to contradict Kirby and the testimony given by the victims. Botswana broke off diplomatic relations with North Korea following the report’s publication.
“It behooves the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to urgently put its governance house in order with a view to engage and create democratic space for dialogue and inclusivity, as well as respect for the rule of law and human rights of its own people,” is also quoted as saying.
Reports indicate that speaking along with Kirby were the ambassadors of Australia, Panama and Botswana ÔÇö whose delegations co-sponsored the hearing ÔÇö as well as two former North Korean detainees whose experiences were featured in the commission’s report. Testifying before the UN commission alongside Kirby were two prison escapees, Jung Gwang-il and Kim Hye Sook.
When terminating its diplomatic and consular relations early this year, Botswana stated its decision has been informed by” the recently-released report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea which details systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations by North Korean authorities.
“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,” reads part of the communiqu├®.
Botswana noted that the deplorable acts catalogued in the United Nations’ report are startling and warrant strong condemnation by the international community.
“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,” Botswana said.
President Khama’s administration said the severing of diplomatic relations is not in any way targeted at the people of North Korea. “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,” it added.