UN Watch Disappointed at U.N. Rights Chief Refusal to Meet Dalai Lamai


But welcomes Pillay’s criticism of China’s “systemic violations of human rights”

GENEVA, July 29, 2009 — The Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch expressed disappointment at the refusal by United Nations rights chief Navi Pillay to answer whether she will receive the Dalai Lama on his visit to Geneva next week — understood as a negative answer — but welcomed her criticism of China’s “serious systemic violations of human rights” in Tibet, and her call for due process for detainees and access to international observers.


“While the High Commissioner for Human Rights is supposed to be independent and to act solely on principles,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, “her refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama—the voice of Tibetan victims and a universal symbol of peace—reflects the sad reality that U.N. institutions and officials operate under the constant influence of power politics, especially when it involves China.”


Louise Arbour, Pillay’s predecessor, admitted to the Washington Post last year that she routinely held back on criticism of China and Russia, because she was “constrained by the reality of the organization’s power centers, including China, Russia and the Group of 77.” (See UN Watch’s August 2008 report, “The Right to Name and Shame.”)


Neuer welcomed Pillay’s new comments on Tibet, but said they were “too little and too late. She’s still walking on eggshells. We urge the High Commissioner to attribute direct responsibility to Beijing for specific crimes in Tibet, and in general to make regular public statements on China’s gross and systematic abuses affecting a population of more than one billion people.”


Pillay’s record after one year on the job, said Neuer, “indicates that, aside from a few cautious statements, she is treading lightly over abuses by some of the most powerful U.N. members, including China and Russia, leaving the United Nations increasingly silent on some of the world’s most pressing human rights issues.”


UN Watch obtained the copy of Pillay’s new statement on Tibet (see below), which she recently gave to Jean-Claude Buhrer-Solal, an author and former Le Monde correspondent on U.N. and human rights issues, for his upcoming article in the French magazine Politique Internationale.


After Buhrer was unable to pose questions on Tibet during Pillay’s press briefing at the April Durban Review Conference on racism, he submitted them in writing. While her office often responds immediately to media queries, in this case it took Pillay more than two months to reply.


Pillay’s statement carefully sidestepped the question about whether she would meet with the Dalai Lama, who will be in Geneva on August 6, which is understood to be a negative answer. She also ignored the question as to whether she would ask China for permission to visit Tibet. Finally, she also chose not to reply to the question about why the human rights situation in Tibet was ignored at a world conference that was supposed to address issues of discrimination against ethnic minorities.


Questions Submitted by Journalist Jean-Claude Buhrer-Solal
(May 19, 2009, as translated from the original French)


Madam High Commissioner,

Do human rights, which are in principle universal, like the fight against racism, stop at the borders of certain countries? Indeed, why is Tibet virtually cut off from the world since the repression of demonstrations in March 2008, and why do its residents continue to be the victims of racial discrimination?


The fate of Tibetans, their identity seriously threatened, appears to be of little concern to the UN Human Rights Council, nor has it been raised during the Durban Review Conference. Will Tibet be a taboo subject at the United Nations?


Last year, China refused a request of your predecessor, Mrs. Louise Arbour, to visit Tibet in order to view for herself the situation on the ground. Where does this stand today? Have you renewed Ms. Arbour’s request for yourself vis-a-vis the Chinese authorities?


Finally, would you be willing to receive the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize Laurate, who will visit Switzerland in early August, in order to contribute, pursuant to your mandate, greater respect for human rights and man in Tibet?
Response by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
(July 24, 2009)


“While recognizing that Tibet is an integral part of China, China needs to live up to its commitments to protect the rights of minorities, including those of Tibetans. These are reflected in China’s Constitution and the international treaties it has ratified. China’s own law provides formal guarantees and minority protections for ethnic groups, as well as elements of self-governance. However, serious systemic violations of human rights are reported to be taking place at the same time as increasing exclusion of ethnic minorities from a top-down policy of economic development of the western portion of the country.”


“Detentions and arrests have continued in Tibet since the events that occurred in March 2008. It is important the government ensures that those have been detained are treated with due process and that independent actors are given access in order to assess conditions on the ground.”


“China is scheduled to appear before the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August this year. Its conclusions will be an important examination of China’s commitment to the protection of minority rights, including in Tibet.”


Additional comment by OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville:


The former High Commissioner Louise Arbour requested an invitation to visit China including the Tibetan areas in mid-April 2008, but unfortunately this was declined on the grounds of timing. OHCHR hopes that China considers outstanding requests for invitations by Special Procedures mandate holders.  Various UN Special Rapporteurs have continued to express concern about reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees by the security forces, and failure to ensure fair trials. China comes up periodically before various UN treaty bodies – including, for example, the 41st Session of the Committee Against Torture last November.

UN Watch