Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has turned down an invitation to attend the Dec. 10 event at which Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese pro-democracy advocate, will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Pillay declined the invitation because she is already hosting a human rights day event in Geneva, her spokesman told Turtle Bay. She has no intention of sending a more junior official to represent the organization in her place, the spokesman, Rupert Colville, said.
The decision comes as the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon is already facing sharp criticism from human rights groups for failing to press China to release Liu or his wife Liu Xia, who was placed under house arrest after her husband was chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Ban did not congratulate Liu, a leader during the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, and one of the drafters of Charter 08, a document signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals and rights advocates that calls for political reform and an improvement in the country's human rights policies.
In a statement released to the press, Yang Jianli, a Chinese dissident who represents Liu before the Nobel committee, accused the U.N. officials of neglecting their duties. "Ms. Pillay's decision is a clear and unequivocal abdication of her responsibilities as high commissioner, which I believe resulted from direct pressure from the Chinese government," Yang said. "It is especially concerning because it occurs in the wake of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's refusal to raise Dr. Liu's case when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao shortly Dr. Liu was announced as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate."
China has mounted an aggressive campaign to dissuade foreign dignitaries to attend the December 10 event, warning that it could harm their countries relations with China. Pillay's spokesman, Colville, said that China played no role in her decision to turn down the invitation. He said that she had already had plans to host a major Geneva meeting with five human rights defenders, including activists from Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
"This is not something that she could simply drop. We are trying to put a spotlight on those human rights defenders nobody has heard of," Colville told Turtle Bay. "We have spent months arranging this major event. It's being attended by human rights defenders, diplomats and NGOs, coming from all around the world."
Pillay's supporters said that she had sharply criticized China's treatment of Liu's well before he emerged as a Nobel laureate. In December, 2009, after a Chinese court sentence Liu to 11 years in prison on charges of "suspicion of incitement to subvert state power," Pillay took Beijing to task.
"The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Liu
Xiaobo mark a further severe restriction on the scope of freedom of expression
in China," Pillay said at the time. "Today's verdict is a very unfortunate
development that casts an ominous shadow over China's recent commitments to
protect and promote human rights."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.