UN blunders with human rights logo resembling robes of the Dalai Lama

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The Independent Online

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time – redesigning the UN logo to mark the 60th anniversary of the world's most translated document, the UN Human Rights declaration.

After a long search for a new design, a South African artist was commissioned after the UN decided to ditch its blue and white logo in favour of one which the high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, believed would have more resonance in the developing world.

The successful design was unveiled in December last year, when the UN launched a year-long promotion for the 60th anniversary, which is to culminate with ceremonies on 10 December. Nobody noticed any particular significance of the orange and amber logo, showing a person with outstretched arms. When the design was unveiled the artist, Yolande Mulke, said: "I think what the UN likes about it is the continuity of using the wreath device from the UN logo and the feeling of peace and welcoming that the man with his arms wide open projects."

But four months later, after weeks of protests by the amber-robed Buddhist monks in Tibet as China prepares to hold the Beijing Olympics, the UN has been embarrassed by the logo's distinctive colours which are also those favoured by the Dalai Lama, the symbol of Tibetan resistance. "It's a complete accident, we had no idea that the colours were those of Tibet," said a UN official. The problem for the UN – which recognises China as the ruler of Tibet – is that the logo has been chosen to replace the official UN Human Rights one not only throughout this year but on a permanent basis.

Susan Curran, a spokeswoman for Mrs Arbour, said no UN member state had complained about the logo. Chinese embassy officials in London did not return calls yesterday. But Ms Curran stressed that the decision was taken long ago and that there was "nothing specific" about the logo's chosen colours. "The criteria were that we wanted to show colours that were grounded and indigenous," she said.

The UN is enlisting artists, filmmakers and cartoonists to raise awareness of the human rights declaration under the slogan "Dignity and justice for all of us". A website, www.KnowyourRights2008.org has been set up to promote the campaign.

The Nobel peace prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for Mrs Arbour to be allowed to visit Tibet in order to "report to the international community the events which led to this international outcry for justice". During the height of the protests last month, she urged China to allow peaceful protests in Lhasa.

However, Amnesty International has issued a strong criticism of the international community's response, saying that unless Gordon Brown and other world leaders speak out strongly and in public, "they risk giving tacit endorsement to China's repressive policies".

China has kept up the pressure by accusing Tibetan groups of planning suicide attacks, and it announced the seizure of guns, bullets and explosives in some Tibetan monasteries. China's Ministry of Public Security said it had arrested "key members" of an underground network in Lhasa working with foreign-based pro-Tibet independence groups to spark a "Tibet People's Uprising Movement".

"We now have sufficient evidence to prove that the Lhasa incident is part of the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement organised by the Dalai clique," a ministry spokesman, Wu Heping, told a Beijing news conference. "Its purpose is to create crisis in China by staging co-ordinated sabotage activities. To our knowledge, the next plan of the Tibet independence forces is to organise suicide squads to launch violent attacks."

The accusation was swiftly denied by an aide to the Dalai Lama, who leads a government-in-exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala.

The US state department also weighed in. A spokesman said: "The Dalai Lama is a man of peace. There is absolutely no indication that he wants to do anything other than have a dialogue with China to discuss how to deal with some of the serious issues there."

About 90 Tibetan exiles and monks protested yesterday in two waves in front of the Chinese embassy in Nepal, but they were quickly detained by Nepalese police who have stopped similar protests in the past few days.

The Dalai Lama, described as a "separatist" by Beijing, has upset China by deciding to make a brief stopover in Japan on the way to the US from India next week. "We have all along opposed him using any excuse or in any capacity going to any country to engage in separatist activities," said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

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