UN defends Ban Ki-moon against rights 'cowardice' claim

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Abu Dhabi (17 Jan 2011) HRW said Mr Ban placed "undue faith" in his persuasion skills

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The UN has defended its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over accusations that he has failed to speak out over human rights issues.

Mr Ban has been singled out for harsh criticism by Human Rights Watch in its annual report.

The group said he had been "notably reluctant to put pressure on abusive governments".

Mr Ban's office denied this, saying he used both quiet diplomacy and public pressure to promote human rights.

But HRW says it wants its annual report to draw attention to "the failure of the expected champions of human rights" to defend those rights and stand up to abusive governments.

While there is "nothing inherently wrong with dialogue and cooperation to promote human rights", the group says, there was a danger that it could become "a charade designed more to appease critics of complacency than to secure change".

"Whether out of calculation or cowardice, many [UN Security] Council members promote dialogue and cooperation as a universal prescription without regard to whether a government has the political will to curtail its abusive behavior."

The BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says Mr Ban's style has been more discreet than that of his predecessor Kofi Annan. He has often often opted to work behind the scenes to pressure governments on human rights issues.

Start Quote

The record shows he has achieved results through both quiet diplomacy and public pressure”

End Quote Farhan Haq Spokesman for Ban Ki-moon

But HRW says Mr Ban's "disinclination to speak out about serious human rights violators means he is often choosing to fight with one hand tied behind his back".

It says that while Mr Ban has made strong comments on human rights when visiting, for example, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, he has failed to do so with Chinese officials.

'Infatuated'

HRW also says Mr Ban appeared to have "placed undue faith in his professed ability to convince by private persuasion", citing his discussions with leaders including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Burma's military leader Than Shwe and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Mr Ban's spokesman Farhan Haq defended the secretary general's record, saying he did speak publicly about human rights when he visited some of those countries named by HRW.

"In each case he makes a strategic decision on the most effective to way to secure respect for HR [human rights] and accountability," said Mr Haq.

"The record shows he has achieved results through both quiet diplomacy and public pressure."

Mr Haq cited the freeing of a jailed gay couple in Malawi as one example where quiet diplomacy had proved successful.

The EU also comes under fire in the report - HRW says it has "become particularly infatuated with the idea of dialogue and cooperation" and criticises foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton, "for repeatedly expressing a preference for 'quiet diplomacy' regardless of the circumstances".

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama is accused of lacking his "famed eloquence" when defending human rights in bilateral contexts with China, India and Indonesia, and of failing to ensure other areas of US government "convey strong human rights messages consistently".

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