U.N. Human Rights chief declines invite to Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

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 ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

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."

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."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

More from Foreign Policy

A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Xi’s Great Leap Backward

Beijing is running out of recipes for its looming jobs crisis—and reviving Mao-era policies.

A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.
A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.

Companies Are Fleeing China for Friendlier Shores

“Friendshoring” is the new trend as geopolitics bites.

German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.
German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.

Why Superpower Crises Are a Good Thing

A new era of tensions will focus minds and break logjams, as Cold War history shows.

Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.
Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.

The Mediterranean as We Know It Is Vanishing

From Saint-Tropez to Amalfi, the region’s most attractive tourist destinations are also its most vulnerable.