Insight - U.N. chief finds his voice, but remains cautious on China

Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:04am GMT

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Over the past six years U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has undergone a metamorphosis from a soft-spoken diplomat cautiously juggling conflicting demands from big powers into an outspoken defender of human rights in Syria, Iran and elsewhere.

But his scathing public reprimands of those he considers rights abusers have yet to fall on China, where U.N. officials say he prefers to use "quiet diplomacy." It is an approach that some analysts support but frustrates rights advocates.

Secure in his second and final five-year-term, Ban has become more openly forceful, using the bully pulpit to condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's onslaught against an increasingly militarized opposition and repeatedly calling for "political transition" - a polite way of saying Assad must go.

His harsh words about Assad and other autocratic leaders in the Middle East and North Africa since the Arab Spring began last year have irked Security Council veto powers Russia and China, who have rebuked Ban and Western powers for what they say is meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Ban, 68, has unquestionably aligned himself with the United States, European Union and Western countries when it comes to issues like human rights and freedom of expression. Nor did his unwavering support for military interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast or his defence of the concept of the "responsibility to protect" civilians last year endear him to Moscow and Beijing.

He has also been publicly reprimanded by Iran for castigating the Islamic Republic over its human rights record.

Ban's sharp words have not been one-sided. He has excoriated Israel for continuing to build settlements on Palestinian territory and repeatedly urged Israel, the United States and Iran to avoid "inflammatory" rhetoric and "shrill war-talk" in the escalating standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

This, analysts and rights advocates say, stands in sharp contrast to his early years after taking up the job in 2007 when he appeared more timid and less willing to take strong stands. He was often compared unfavourably with his predecessor Kofi Annan, who ran afoul of the United States by declaring the 2003 invasion of Iraq "illegal."   Continued...

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 25, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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