UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has made a mockery of her office by skipping today’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for laureate Liu Xiaobo. Pillay’s office first said she couldn’t be in Oslo because of a previous commitment, and insisted more recently that she wasn’t actually invited. But she surely could have attended if she chose. Pillay, a South African, played an honorable role in the struggle against apartheid. But if she can’t withstand pressure from China to snub the Nobel ceremony, how can her UN Human Rights Commission be expected to defend other dissidents who are jailed and tortured by UN member governments?
The moral failure isn’t Pillay’s alone. Nineteen governments declined invitations to the Oslo ceremony. Some may have feared China’s wrath. Others share Beijing’s desire to repress its own citizens with no outside meddling. But a UN Human Rights Commission has no purpose if not to stand with Liu, who was imprisoned for his role in a manifesto for democratic reform.
Pillay tried to compensate by calling this week for the release of all political prisoners jailed for promoting democracy. Liu is just one of thousands of prisoners of conscience in China. But Pillay’s presence in Oslo would have been the clearest possible gesture of solidarity.