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    « Europe's Rising Obesity & Health Expenditure | Main | Inside The EU Bailouts »

    Upcoming Nobel Peace Ceremony: UN High Commissioner Too Busy To Attend

    Beijing's fierce campaign to get people to boycott this Friday's function in Oslo to award Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, has thus far had only moderate success at best. Out of 65 ambassadors who have been invited, only 18 (besides China) have turned down the invitation, under pressure from PRC. China has called this award "obscene". The only thing "obscene" about the award is the way China has reacted to it and has treated Xiaobo and countless other Chinese like him who are fighting for their rights.

    The spineless countries which have caved in to pressure from China are: Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, Kazakstan, Ukraine, Iran, Vietnam, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Philippines, Egypt, and Sudan. What most of these countries have in common is that a) they don't have too much respect for human rights per se in general; they are not very tolerant of activism within their own territory and b) they have strong trade ties with PRC and do not wish to jeopardize their selfish economic interests.

    This list is not at all surprising. Not even one of these states is known to stand up for human rights. But the fact that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - Ms Navi Pillay - a woman whose job is to advocate human rights around the world, who holds the UN's highest office on this issue, is 'too busy to attend' this Friday's function - is astounding. The irony of this is only deepened by the fact that Friday, December 10th is celebrated by the UN as the World Human Rights Day. On that day Xiaobo - a human rights activist - who is serving an eleven year prison sentence for his lifelong support of human rights is being honored in absentia with the world's highest honor of it's kind, and Pillay is too busy to show up and support him. 

    Her office has said that she has other engagement to attend in Geneva - a function to celebrate human rights - on the same day. So she is having her own separate celebration of human rights while the world celebrates Xiaobo. In her absence she is not even sending any other high ranking official in her office to represent her to Oslo. How can the UN's highest official on human rights possibly be too busy to attend the Nobel Peace ceremony for a human rights activist? How is this even possible?

    Her own office has this to say about her official duties: "The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the United Nations. The High Commissioner heads OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights)  and spearheads the United Nations' human rights efforts. We offer leadership, work objectively, educate and take action to empower individuals and assist States in upholding human rights. We are a part of the United Nations Secretariat with our headquarters in Geneva.

    The Office's priorities are set out in two key strategic documents: the OHCHR Plan of Action and its Strategic Management Plan 2010-2011. These priorities include greater country engagement, working closely with our partners at the country and local levels, in order to ensure that international human rights standards are implemented on the ground; a stronger leadership role for the High Commissioner; and closer partnerships with civil society and United Nations agencies."

    And exactly which of the above functions is Madam Pillay fulfilling by turning down the invitation to honor Liu Xiaobo? Must be the part about providing 'leadership'.

    In the meantime, despite numerous calls by prominent world leaders and human rights groups, Beijing will not be releasing Xiaobo from the prison to travel to Oslo to accept the prize. Several hundred people marched in Hong Kong this weekend in support of Xiaobo's release. Archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and Former Czec President, writer and a dissident himself, Václav Havel, wrote a joint editorial this weekend in London's Observer asking Beijing to release Xiaobo. They wrote, "While China's economic and geopolitical progress over the past three decades is cause for celebration, its support for abusive regimes and the brutal force with which it crushes dissent within its own borders demonstrates that substantial reform is needed if China is to be viewed within the international community as a true leader.

    In short, the world must strenuously object to the Chinese model for development which decouples economic and political reform by unapologetically asserting that anything, including domestic and international oppression, can be justified if it is viewed to enable economic growth. International scrutiny of the Chinese government's widespread violation of fundamental rights at home and abroad is not meddling in its "internal affairs"; it flows from its legal commitments to respect the inherent dignity and equality of every person. Though he is just one of 1.3 billion, the story of this year's Nobel peace prize laureate, Dr Liu Xiaobo, is sadly emblematic of the Chinese government's intolerance to individual expression."

    Unfortunately the Nobel ceremony will have to proceed without Xiaobo. His wife, who has been placed under house arrest by Beijing since the prize was announced, cannot travel as well. It's unlikely that any of his friends can make it to Oslo either, as Beijing has turned several of them away from the airport in the last few weeks. Security at the airports in China has been increased lately and none of Xiaobo's friends and associates are allowed to fly out of the country, as PRC is afraid that they may sneak out of the country and head to Oslo. There will be a symbolic empty chair at Friday's ceremony in Xiaobo's honor. It is a long held tradition for the Nobel laureates to give the 'Nobel lecture' (an acceptance speech). Since Xiaobo cannot be there to speak, actress Liv Ullman is scheduled to read selected passages from his published writings to the audience, on his behalf. 

    Getting back to our esteemed (I'm using that word very loosely here) UN High Commissioner Pillay and her disgraceful decision to not attend Friday's function, which has been widely criticized. Some people think she should resign. I have a better idea. There is too much dignity in resigning. She should be fired. But unfortunately her boss - Ban (UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon) - is too busy these days sucking up to people in high places to get re-elected, as his first five year term as Sec-Gen is drawing to an end.

    Ban was recently in China on an official visit (unofficially called a campaign stop), where he dutifully praised China for all it's wonderful progress and skillfully managed to skirt around the issues of human rights abuses. He can't afford PRC's wrath right now, after all it's election season. In order to get re-appointed, Ban needs the support of nine (out of a total of fifteen) members of the UN Security Council and his candidacy must not be vetoed by any permanent member of the Security Council (which includes PRC). If Ban were to send a high ranking UN official to Friday's ceremony, then he can pretty much kiss goodbye to his dreams of being the Sec-Gen again, as PRC will for sure use it's veto against his re-election bid.

    By all accounts Ban's campaign stop in China was a success. Although PRC has not officially endorsed Ban yet for a second term in the office, President Hu Jintao was quoted by state news puppet - Xinhua - as having "vowed continued support for the work of the United Nations and its chief". 

    Nile Gardiner, has posted an excellent blog entry in The Telegraph. Here's an excerpt from his blog: "If further evidence is needed that the United Nations is a complete basket case in the arena of human rights, look no further than the world body’s decision to stay away from this Friday’s Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. A friend of Mr. Liu, Yang Jianli, has protested against the UN, and called for Pillay’s resignation.

    He’s absolutely right. Pillay, a South African national, is clearly unfit for the post if she can’t even stand up for one of the world’s bravest dissidents. The whole ugly episode though is not surprising when you consider the moral bankruptcy of the UN Human Rights Council, which is worse than the old Commission on Human Rights, which even former Secretary General Kofi Annan was ashamed of. The Council’s current membership includes major human rights violators such as China, Cuba, Libya, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

    It is a damning indictment of the United Nations when its leaders cower before a dictatorial regime and refuse to lift a finger in defence of human rights. We’ve seen it numerous times before, from North Korea to Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe, and it is the mark of a failed institution whose standing on the world stage could barely be lower than it is today."

    ~ Gauri

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