Ban Ki-moon mum on human rights as he visits China

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a four-day visit to China, has not urged the release of Liu Xiaobo, this year's Nobel Peace Prizewinner. Rights groups are highly critical of his general silence on human rights.

David Gray/AP
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (l.) meets with China's President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 1.

Just how much does Ban Ki-moon want to win reelection to a second term as United Nations secretary-general next year?

At least to his critics, it would seem he wants it enough not to breathe a word about human rights in his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China could veto Mr. Ban’s reelection bid should he make one, which he seems almost certain to do.

Human rights groups have flayed Ban, currently on a four-day trip to China, for his silence here on human rights in general. They are especially disappointed that he has not urged the release of Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prizewinner, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for incitement to subversion.

“The common refrain is that confronting human rights abuses in private can be more effective than publicly, but Ban’s complete neglect of human rights even in private is appalling,” says Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Ban did not raise human rights at all in his meeting with Mr. Hu, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Monday. The UN later released a statement saying that Ban had raised the subject “with other Chinese leaders.”

To compound matters, the UN secretary-general had been put in an awkward position just days before arriving in Beijing, when one of his top officials presented an award to the Chinese military chief who ordered the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Sha Zukang, the Chinese UN undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs, gave the award on behalf of the World Harmony Foundation, a private charity headed by a Chinese businessman, to Gen. Chi Haotian for his unspecified "contribution to world peace," according to the state run China News Service.
Ban apparently only heard of the award after Mr. Sha had presented it.

The UN secretary-general does not always shy away from human rights. Two days before arriving in Beijing, he had called for the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, another Nobel Peace Prizewinner, who is under house arrest. Nor is he the only world leader who has soft-pedaled human rights in his meetings with Chinese leaders. Beijing has made it plain it will brook no criticism on this front, and many presidents and prime ministers have decided that it would not be worth their while to risk Chinese wrath by standing up for democratic values.

But Ban has no bilateral trade or other economic interests to protect. He is the guardian of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which China is a signatory.

If he can’t speak his mind to the Chinese on human rights, who can?

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