Aung San Suu Kyi

UN chief's silence on Liu Xiaobo troubling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 November, 2010, 12:00am

Despite much criticism of the effectiveness of the United Nations, it still serves as a trans-national symbol of peace and human rights because of its historical background and admirable objectives at the time of its founding. Only two years after the First General Assembly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted with 48 nations voting in favour, highlighting the inextricable link between human rights and the effective promotion of peace.

Hence, one of the key jobs of the United Nations secretary general is to try to engage nations around the world on the issue of human rights. It is no surprise, then, that Ban Ki-moon should use a report on Myanmar to call for the 'respect for the fundamental freedoms' and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient currently under house arrest. It is a tribute to both the Nobel Peace Prize committee and the United Nations that their efforts successfully shine the spotlight on a human rights issue that we might otherwise have ignored.

But on the latest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Liu Xiaobo, Ban has been much more muted. After some initial criticism, Ban has now addressed the issue of human rights during his China trip, but still has not referred to the jailed Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He did not raise the issue of human rights at all during his meeting with President Hu Jintao earlier this week.

Suggestions that the silence may be due to China's possible influence over Ban's re-election bid as secretary general is troubling, for such motives would be anathema to what is expected of anyone filling that position.

While national leaders may sometimes fear the harming of bilateral ties, we expect the United Nations to take the lead in engaging with human rights issues and remind national leaders that there are values, such as respect for individual rights that transcend politics and national interest. No United Nations secretary general should shy away from making that point, whatever their circumstances.