UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said today he was deeply saddened by the death of Liu Xiaobo but refrained from criticizing China for refusing to allow the Nobel laureate to receive treatment abroad.
The prominent dissident died after a battle with cancer, remaining in custody until the end as Beijing rejected international appeals to let him leave the country.
Guterres was "deeply saddened" to learn of Liu's death and "extends his condolences to his family and his friends," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Asked about China's refusal to allow Liu to seek treatment abroad and concerns about the well-being of his widow, poet Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest, the UN spokesman said, "I don't have anything further to say at this point."
In contrast to Guterres, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein described Liu as "China's iconic peace and democracy figure" and urged Beijing to allow Liu Xia to travel.
"The human rights movement in China and across the world has lost a principled champion who devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights, peacefully and consistently, and who was jailed for standing up for his beliefs," said the UN high commissioner for human rights.
A veto-wielding power at the UN Security Council, China has recently moved to raise its profile at the United Nations, increasing its financial support and providing troops for peacekeeping missions.
China is now the second biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping after the United States, which, under President Donald Trump, is seeking to cut its funding to the world body.
Liu, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, died today, more than a month after he was transferred from prison to a heavily guarded hospital to be treated for liver cancer. He was 61.
The Nobel Committee, which had awarded him the peace prize in 2010, said the Chinese government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death.
The United States, which had offered earlier in the week to host Liu for treatment, called today on China to free his widow from house arrest and allow her to leave the country.
Germany had also offered to provide medical treatment.