BEIJING—Friends and supporters of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo have levelled a broadside against the United Nations and its High Commissioner for Human Rights for declining an invitation to attend this week’s ceremony in Oslo, accusing it of caving in to pressure from China.
The attack comes at a time when Liu’s numerous friends and supporters inside China have come under increasing threat, surveillance and even house arrest to prevent them from attending the ceremony.
On Sunday, Yang Jianli, official representative of the prize winner’s wife, Liu Xia, accused UN High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay of abdicating her responsibilities and failing to stand up for human rights by turning down an invitation, citing prior commitments.
The attack on the UN follows a similar one last month by human rights organizations around the world after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with senior Chinese leaders and failed to raise the issue of Liu’s imprisonment.
“The message,” said Yang, “that Secretary-General Ban and High Commissioner Pillay is sending to Liu Xiaobo and the countless other imprisoned dissidents in China and around the world is clear, simple and profoundly wrong: One cannot count on the United Nations because it will not be there for you.”
Yang, who is based in Boston and holds a doctorate from Harvard University, called Pillay’s decision not to attend “a clear and unequivocal abdication of her responsibilities as High Commissioner,” saying the UN charter specifically states “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights” is a vital part of the organization’s mandate.
“If they are unwilling or unable to do so, they should resign,” Yang said.
The attack is certain to put an even brighter spotlight on this year’s award — one that will honour Liu despite intense pressure from Beijing on the awards committee and the Norwegian government not to honour him.
Yang’s friendship with Liu Xiaobo dates back to the days of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, when Liu played a crucial role in persuading large numbers of students to withdraw from the protest peacefully, thereby saving lives.
Yang said he was especially disappointed in the UN because he himself had benefited from UN intervention when he had been previously jailed for five years.
“Knowing that the United Nations stood firmly with me and my fellow political prisoners gave us great hope and confidence that the world had not forgotten us,” he said.
This year’s awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu, an academic and dissident who issued “Charter 08,” which calls for multi-party democracy, has provoked outrage on the part of the Chinese government, which regards him as “a criminal.”
Liu was formally sentenced to 11 years in prison for co-authoring the document, which dared to challenge the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.
Numerous lawyers, academics and China’s best known artist Ai Wei-Wei have been prevented from taking international flights in recent weeks, out of state concern they might attend Friday’s ceremony in Oslo and draw greater international attention to it.
Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, has not been able to get near an airport. She remains under 24/7 guard under house arrest in her home in Beijing, where authorities have cut off all communication she once had with the outside world.
A spokesperson for the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay said earlier this month that she would not be attending because of a previous commitment and noted the UN rights commissioner does not normally attend the ceremony.
This year, however, the theme of International Human Rights Day — the day of the awarding of the prize — will focus on the works of human rights defenders worldwide.
Yang said it was incumbent upon the commissioner to be in Oslo to send a signal to the world about the defence of human rights.
On Sunday, both South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Czech president Vaclav Havel, writing in Britain’s The Observer newspaper, called on China to release Liu. They said Liu’s continued imprisonment was “sadly emblematic of the Chinese government’s intolerance.”