Daily Telegraph, Dec 8, 2010
The UN's Nobel decision is an act of betrayal
Navanethem Pillay should cancel her 'other engagements' and attend the Nobel ceremony on Friday. So what if if makes China unhappy, says Max Wind-Cowie
For the first time since 1936, the Nobel peace Prize winner will be represented by an empty chair on Friday. Why? Because China has succeeded where no other state – bar the Nazi regime in Germany all those years ago – has. They have prevented either this year's winner, Liu Xiaobo, or any member of his family from traveling to Oslo to accept the prize.
The Nobel Committee has, rightly, come in for some flak over the last few years. Awarding the prize to Al Gore – for jetting around the world arguing that people shouldn't, er, jet around the world – and to President Obama were demeaning to the prize and to its purpose. But this year they got it right. China's economic reforms are, in the long-term, meaningless without political liberalisation to empower its population.
Many, many Chinese are waking up to that simple fact; and Liu Xiaobo represents them, their hopes and their continued oppression at the hands of their own Government. In awarding him the prize, the Nobel Committee highlighted his sacrifice and the struggle of the Chinese people for freedom. But this award goes beyond that – it has also, unintentionally, served to highlight the hypocrisy of world bodies that mouth platitudes about human rights while ignoring Beijing's brutality.
The UN's Human Rights High Commissioner won't be attending the ceremony either. Navanethem Pillay isn't prevented from attending by the armed guards of a corrupt regime. Her chair is empty through choice. Citing "another engagement", she is excusing herself from the Nobel ceremony – in reality it is her cowardice, and the cowardice of the organisation for which she works, that is stopping her attending. For the UN, Human Rights are about criticising Israel and inviting this year's hottest celebrity to become a "goodwill ambassador". If Lindsay Lohan's into it, so are they. Likewise, if a cabal of Middle Eastern dictatorships want a venue in which to hypocritically grandstand about Israeli actions, they'll provide it (hell, they'll even call it the World Conference Against Racism). But if a man is imprisoned, his family harassed and his beliefs silenced the UN cowers in the background without a word to say on the matter – provided, of course, that the oppressors are the Chinese Government.
Some UN member states are waking up to the hijack diplomacy that serves for principle in their New York headquarters. Canada, for example, will be boycotting the afore-mentioned World Congress Against Racism on the grounds that it is nothing more than a hatefest. The Canadian Government points out that a Conference which, last time it met, invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to regale them with his holocaust-denying schtick cannot, in good faith, declare itself an opponent of racial hatred. Meanwhile, African and Arab leaders have hijacked the Resolution on extra-judicial killings to remove the explicit protection for members of sexual minorities. Thus making gay and lesbian people even less safe in the developing world.
Canada's stand, and the outrage over the new wording of the UN resolution on murder, are to be commended, but they simply aren't enough. Today's announcement that the UN will not be present, as a brave, peaceful dissident is recognised by the Nobel Committee, reinforces how out-of-touch its functionaries are with the very values they are supposed to represent.
Western, democratic countries have to work together to reclaim the UN from those who misuse it to further interests and ideas that are the very antithesis of liberal tolerance. Otherwise, through a combination of cowardice and hijack, the UN will lose whatever credibility it still has as a force for good in the world. A good start would be exerting some diplomatic pressure on Navanethem Pillay to cancel whatever "other engagements" are clogging her diary and have the guts to turn up on Friday.
As things stand, there will be two empty chairs at this year's Nobel Prize ceremony. One – Liu Xiaobo's – represents bravery, courage and conviction. The other – the UN's – stands for cowardice, hypocrisy and betrayal.