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Chinese dissident blasts UN rights chief’s Nobel absence

Originally published by AFP,06 Dec 2010
By Pierre-Henry Deshayes

 OSLO — An exiled Chinese dissident representing Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s family criticised Monday the UN rights chief for declining to attend a ceremony for the laureate, charging she was bowing to pressure from Beijing.

 In an open letter sent to AFP, Yang Jianli harshly criticised United Nations Human Rights commissioner Navi Pillay’s decision not to attend Friday’s award ceremony in Oslo, hinting she and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should resign if they did not dare stand up to the Chinese regime.

 Not attending constitutes “a clear and unequivocal abdication of her responsibilities as High Commissioner, which I believe resulted from direct pressure from the Chinese government,” Yang wrote.

 Yang, who is living in exile in the United States and will represent the 2010 laureate’s wife Liu Xia at the prize ceremony, has himself spent five years in a Chinese prison.

 He stressed in his letter the importance at the time of his detention of “knowing the United Nations stood firmly with me and my fellow political prisoners.”

 Pillay’s decision not to attend the ceremony “is especially concerning because it occurs in the wake of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s refusal to raise Dr. Liu’s case when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao shortly after Dr. Liu was announced as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate” in October, Yang wrote.

 The exiled dissident called on Ban and Pillay to “discharge the fundamental purposes of the United Nations (including) promoting and encouraging respect for human rights.”

 “If they are unwilling or unable to do so, they should resign,” he wrote.

 Rights groups strongly criticised the UN secretary general’s decision not to raise Liu’s case when he met with Hu on November 1, three weeks after the jailed dissident won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

 Pillay’s office in Geneva vehemently rejected accusations she had succumbed to Chinese pressure and insisted she could not attend the award ceremony because of a clash with another event for World Human Rights Day.

 “Reject is the wrong word. She is hosting a major event here,” Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, told AFP.

 “December 10 as well as being Nobel Prize day is World Human Rights Day and she is hosting a major event here with five human rights defenders from around the world,” he said.

 “It would be a slap in the face to them if she did not attend,” he added, stressing that Pillay had called for Liu’s release on the day he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

 Liu, a former professor and author, was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison on subversion charges after co-authoring “Charter 08”, a manifesto that spread quickly on the Internet calling for political reform and greater rights in China.

 Beijing has branded him a criminal.

 The December 10 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is set to take place without Liu, still in jail, and without his close family members who will unlikely be able to leave China.

 Attendance this year has taken on a particular significance as China warned countries that support for the laureate would face consequences.

 Six countries — China, Cuba, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Russia — are so far known to have declined the invitation.

 Since no one in Liu’s immediate family will be able to pick up the prize, an empty chair, a photograph and a text read by Norwegian actress Liv Ullman will represent the laureate at Friday’s ceremony.