- Ban Ki-moon - China - human rights - Nobel Prize
UN chief under fire for failing to press China on jailed Nobel winner
Rights groups slammed UN chief Ban Ki-moon (left) for not raising the plight of the jailed 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in talks with President Hu Jintao (right) on Monday, blaming Ban's silence on Chinese influence on his re-election bid.
AFP - Rights groups criticized UN chief Ban Ki-moon for not raising the case of jailed Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo with China's leaders this week and some linked the silence to his personal ambition.
Diplomats and observers said though that the UN secretary general faced enormous pressure in his encounter with President Hu Jintao, who will have a key say on Ban's reelection next year. Ban's problem is one now faced by all international leaders when they go to Beijing.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the lack of comment "shocking."
"Ban Ki-moon does not hesitate to demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, he should have done the same for Liu Xiaobo," said HRW's UN specialist Philippe Bolopion.
The secretary general called for the release of the Myanmar opposition leader on Friday just two days before he arrived in China for talks with Hu and other leaders.
Ban "did not raise the question of human rights in his discussions with the president," his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told a press briefing Monday. He gave no reason as he fended off questions on the topic.
The UN released a statement late Monday, however, saying that Ban did discuss human rights "with other Chinese leaders."
"If this is to win China's favour for his reelection, the secretary general risks losing the support of those who want a secretary general who is courageous and firm on human rights questions," said Bolopion.
Almost 40 people have been detained in China since Liu, a pro-democracy activist serving an 11 year jail term for subversion, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 8, according to the Human Rights In China (HRIC) group.
"We hope that Ban Ki-moon raised Liu Xiaobo’s case in private discussions with President Hu," Sharon Hom, executive director of HRIC, said in a statement.
"It would be extremely disappointing if the secretary general of the United Nations -- especially one seeking re-election -- did not demonstrate the human rights leadership that the UN special rapporteurs and working group chairs have already shown in supporting fundamental rights and freedoms and calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo."
Four UN rights experts released a statement this month calling for Liu to be freed. The United States and other countries have also called for his release.
Ban has already been criticized for his reaction to Liu's award. His statement made no mention of international criticism of China.
Ban has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection for a new five year term in 2011. But diplomats said it is a near certainty and as one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, China's support will be crucial.
The permanent members "call the shots", according to Jamie Metzl, executive vice president of the Asia Society in New York, and a member of the US National Security Council under former US president Bill Clinton.
"Ban is under enormous pressure," Metzl told AFP.
"On the one hand he leads the organisation tasked with promoting universal human rights. On the other, his continuation in his current post depends entirely on the Security Council, particularly the permanent five."
"If China vetoes his continuation, he is out."
But Ban is not the only one "muting his criticism," added Metzl. President Barack Obama also tempered his statements when in Beijing one year ago.
Metzl said there is a broader, prickly diplomatic problem dealing with China.
"As China becomes more wealthy and more powerful, states, including the United States, are less willing to take China on over its rights record." Its reluctance to sign up to international standards could "roll back" efforts to impose universal human rights, Metzl added.
China's refusal to broach human rights appeals has already encouraged Myanmar, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Sudan, said Metzl. "Now the international community is incapable of taking a stand on human rights."