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Human Rights Watch accuses UN of being soft on abuse

Human Rights Watch's annual report on human rights has faulted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other major leaders for taking a soft approach of "quiet dialogue" and "cooperation" to avoid publicly singling out countries that abuse human rights.

The 649-page "World Report 2011" accuses Ban, who is up for re-election later this year, of acting timidly in dealing with powerful Security Council members like China, even portraying oppressive governments in a "positive light" to avoid controversy.

"In recent years the use of dialogue and cooperation in lieu of public pressure has emerged with a vengeance at the UN, from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to many members of the Human Rights Council," wrote executive director Kenneth Roth in the introduction.

As an example, Human Rights Watch cites Ban's failure to congratulate Liu Xiaobo, the choice for the Nobel Peace Prize that enraged Chinese officials, or to call for his release from jail. Ban has, however, espoused the value of "quiet diplomacy" in approaching leaders like President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Burmese leader Senior General Than Shwe.

His soft approach echoes through the system, with United Nations country teams reticent to speak out on abuses in places like Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, the report says.

Other organisations and leaders besides the UN are criticised. For instance, Human Rights Watch says, the European Union is a regular offender of trying for "constructive dialogues."

"Even when the EU issues a statement of concern on human rights, it is often not backed by a comprehensive strategy for change," says Human Rights Watch. The report also points to the EU's unwillingness to address rights abuses by its own member states, especially in the face of rising intolerance against migrants and inadequate access to asylum.

U.S. President Barack Obama's "famed eloquence ... has sometimes eluded him when it comes to defending human rights.," says the report. The U.S. has been mute on human rights abuses with important bilateral partners like China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, it contends.

Emerging powers like South Africa, Brazil and India have also developed "quiet demarches" to countries like Burma and Sri Lanka, the report says.

"Dialogue and cooperation have their place, but the burden should be on the abusive government to show a genuine willingness to improve," Roth says. "In the absence of the demonstrated political will by abusive governments to make change, governments of good will need to apply pressure to end repression."

Human Rights Watch's 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe summarises major human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

Click here to access "World Report 2011".

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