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Human Rights Monitoring Group Sharply Criticizes UN Chief

  • Carolyn Weaver

Human Rights Watch harshly criticized U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s "quiet diplomacy" approach to human rights issues in its annual report released on Monday. Officials of the human rights monitoring group say the U.N. leader should not necessarily be elected to a second term later this year.

The Human Rights Watch report says Mr. Ban has been "notably reluctant" to pressure major human rights abusers in public. It says the secretary-general has sometimes gone "out of his way to portray oppressive governments in a positive way," and placed "undue faith" in his ability to use private persuasion in dealing with the leaders of Sudan, Burma and Sri Lanka.

At a press conference at the U.N., Human Rights Watch official Philippe Bolopion said the group believes Mr. Ban at this point does not deserve a second term as U.N. chief. "From our point of view to deserve a second term, he would have to have a much more forceful approach, a much more consistent approach when it comes to the critical human rights issues he’s being faced with," he said.

Bolopion noted that when Mr. Ban met with China’s President Hu Jintao in November, he did not discuss human rights. When Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize, Bolopion said the U.N. chief did not commend Liu or call for his release, but rather praised China’s economic progress and adherence to human rights.

Bolopion said that Human Rights Watch believes that Mr. Ban uses "private diplomacy" as a façade for inaction. "It’s a way to publicly say that you are doing something about human rights violations, without having to incur any cost for this. The problem is often it doesn’t work; it works with regimes that are really willing to change and need some help. It doesn’t work with serial abusers that just use cooperation as a way to pretend they address these issues when in fact they don’t," he said.

United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq rejected the criticism, saying that Ban Ki-moon uses all of the means at his disposal, including public pressure, to promote human rights.

"In each particular case, the secretary-general makes his strategic decision on the most effective way to secure respect for human rights and accountability. He’s applied public pressure where he’s considered it the most likely means to achieve results. And the record shows that the secretary-general has achieved results both through quiet diplomacy, as well as through public pressure," he said.

Haq pointed to speeches made by Mr. Ban in Burma and China, in which he championed human rights. He also pointed to the secretary-general's work in Sudan and noted that he had interceded privately to defend a gay couple in Malawi. The Human Rights Watch report notes that Mr. Ban has spoken out publicly against abuses in Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.