U.N. Chief Criticized As Soft on Human Rights

By Anita Snow | January 24, 2011 | 6:03 AM EST

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meets with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on September 19, 2010. (UN Photo by Paulo Filgueiras)

United Nations (AP) - Human Rights Watch singled out U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for especially harsh criticism Monday as it took world leaders to task for what it called their failure to be tougher on rights offenders.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth also lambasted the European Union; the E.U.'s first high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton; President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The use of dialogue and cooperation in lieu of public pressure has emerged with a vengeance at the U.N., from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to many members of the Human Rights Council," Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote in the introduction of the group's annual report.

Ban "has been notably reluctant to put pressure on abusive governments," Roth wrote.

The Human Rights Watch chief cited in particular Ban's failure to publicly raise China's rights records or its imprisoned Nobel peace laureate, literary critic Liu Xiaobo, in a meeting with President Hu Jintao late last year.

At the time, Ban defended his handling of a meeting with Hu during an Asia trip, and told reporters upon his return that he spoke about human rights everywhere -- including China.

Ban said then that he raised the issue of human rights publicly in Nanjing, Shanghai and Beijing and in private talks with Chinese leaders, whom he didn't name, insisting that diplomacy sometimes must be conducted "in confidence."

"I think the Secretary-General has spoken very clearly about this topic a number of times," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said when asked Thursday about the Human Rights Watch report before its release. "I don't have anything to add at this point."

Defending human rights is among the U.N.'s most important responsibilities, Ban said Saturday at Manhattan's Park East Synagogue, ahead of the next week's International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. "As United Nations Secretary-General, I never forget this fundamental mission," he said.