Ziegler's Follies

By Hillel Neuer

The strange story of one UN official`s dubious affair with radicalism.

Logically, an activist against world hunger would be expected to focus his resources on the world’s most acute food shortages. There is little argument over what and where these crises are. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization constantly updates its list of “food emergencies.” From the thirty-five countries on the May 2004 list, a UN Watch study selected a sample of seventeen countries, each of which suffered from a food emergency that the FAO attributed to some human action (e.g., war) rather than a natural disaster. Consequently, criticism of one or another party was entirely conceivable. The study found that in the first four years of his mandate, Ziegler used his UN position to publicly criticize the United States on thirty-four occasions. In contrast, he never criticized any party involved in fifteen of the seventeen food emergencies examined, nor did he speak out on behalf of the people suffering under these famines.69 Regarding food emergencies in such nations as Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Guinea, Haiti, Liberia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda, Ziegler said nothing.70 Sadly, his personal politics appear to have trumped his interest in the documented suffering of starving populations around the world—populations who are thus deprived of the benefits of the UN mechanism created expressly to serve their needs.
Under international law, UN independent human rights experts are obliged to act with impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity—traits Ziegler has rarely displayed over the course of his tenure.71 One can only conclude that in the case of Jean Ziegler, as his old mentor Roger Girod once remarked, the pamphleteer is always present.
Despite Ziegler’s problematic use of his Right to Food mandate, the Commission on Human Rights has consistently renewed his tenure, making him one of the longest-serving human rights officials at the UN. In 2003, for instance, the mandate was renewed—and Ziegler’s term along with it—by a vote of fifty-one in favor. All of the democratic member countries—including European Union members Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, and Britain, as well as Canada and Japan—voted for the renewal, with only the United States opposed and Australia abstaining.72 To be sure, even if the democratic nations had fought Ziegler’s appointment, he would have won enough votes from non-democratic regimes and their allies to remain in office. However, such a fight would, at the very least, have been an official challenge to Ziegler’s conduct. The fact that no such action has been forthcoming reflects a serious and deep-rooted problem within the UN.
There are several reasons Ziegler’s official conduct remains largely unchallenged: First, there is the role that major NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, play at the UN. Few people outside the institution realize just how influential NGOs have become within the UN’s Byzantine human rights system. In fact, they wield immense power: They initiate the creation of new mandates, nominate the mandate-holders, and supply much of the data then cited by the newly appointed experts, who are unsalaried and understaffed. In short, the legitimacy of every UN human rights official lies in their hands. Among the major NGOs, some have openly endorsed Ziegler, while others have been complicit through silence. Many of them have refused to protest Ziegler’s support for such tyrannical regimes as those of Castro and Qaddafi even after being explicitly asked to do so by dissident groups. Instead of using their enormous influence to counteract Ziegler’s questionable conduct, the leading NGOs have enabled it.
Second, there is the peculiar culture of the UN itself. Among European officials, more than a few may secretly admire Ziegler’s forthright anti-Americanism and his rhetorical broadsides against Israel. Moreover, in what may be a strategic move on his part, Ziegler has largely refrained from criticizing specific European governments at the UN, thereby disarming potential opposition to his anti-American statements. Most important, however, is the fact that UN diplomats prefer a certain measure of vice over bad publicity for the world body as a whole, leading them to indulge even the most problematic conduct by their peers. To be a UN diplomat is to be a member of an exclusive club that has the potential to reward loyalty with lucrative jobs and benefits from an array of interconnected foundations and organizations. This practically requires that members “go along to get along”—or face the loss of their professional future. For all these reasons, UN officials such as High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, despite repeatedly being asked to speak out against Ziegler’s politicization of his mandate, have—with one exception in 2005—chosen to remain silent. Whatever Jean Ziegler may say or do, he is still one of their own. It is this same climate of impunity that has led to such serious abuses of UN power as the Oil for Food scandal and the cycle of sexual abuse perpetrated by UN peacekeepers in Africa and Haiti.
It is therefore highly unlikely that the newly formed UN Human Rights Council will change the direction set by its predecessor. Libya, for example, has recently been elected to chair the council’s anti-racism program, which is scheduled to culminate in a 2009 “Durban Review Conference,” likely to be a repeat of the notorious anti-Western and antisemitic colloquium held in 2001. Condemnation of Israel remains the council’s first and, it often seems, only priority.
So long as officials such as Ziegler are permitted to politicize their mandates with impunity, the Human Rights Council will remain incapable of being the objective and even-handed body it purports to be. Taking all of this into consideration, one can only conclude that the Swiss government’s decision to nominate Jean Ziegler to the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee may well be right: Perhaps the newly elected Jean Ziegler is, ironically enough, the perfect man for the job; for Ziegler is not a bureaucratic anomaly or a tolerated annoyance—he is the product and embodiment of a distinct political culture. His career has exemplified that culture’s debased values even as it has rewarded his adherence to them. In many ways, Jean Zeigler is the UN Human Rights Council. He and his career are what the UN’s highest human rights body has become in microcosm. And just like Jean Ziegler, if the UN as a whole continues on its current path, not only its image and institutional legitimacy will suffer, but so will all the great good which it once set out to do.

Hillel Neuer is executive director of UN Watch in Geneva.
1. Jean Ziegler, The New Rulers of the World and Those Who Resist Them (Paris: Fayard, 2002) [French]; Ziegler, The Empire of Shame (Paris: Fayard, 2005) [French]. These two books, in hardcover alone, sold about seventy thousand copies each in France, where twenty thousand copies qualify a book as a best seller. They were best sellers in Germany as well. See www.amazon.de/Imperium-Schande-Unterdr%C3%BCckung-Pantheon-Paperbacks/dp/3570550192. Ziegler’s interview on TV5’s l’Invitי show can be seen at www.dailymotion.com/video/x14d8m_lempire-de-la-honte-jean-ziegler_events.
2. Erwin Koch, “Drummer of Outrage,” Der Spiegel, January 21, 2002 [German].
3. Koch, “Drummer.”
4. The audio recording is available at www.la-bas.org/article.php3?id_article=1161 [French].
5. Koch, “Drummer.”
6. Burton Bollag, “For One Swiss Professor, Vexing His Fellow Citizens Is a Duty and a Delight,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 23, 1998.
7. Koch, “Drummer.”
8. Bernard Ducret, Jeanne Hersch, Herbert Lithy, and Paul Trappe, “Criteria of Academic Appointment: I. Switzerland: The University of Geneva—A Controversy About M. Jean Ziegler,” Minerva 14:4 (December 1976), p. 561.
9. Ducret, Hersch, Lithy, and Trappe, “Criteria of Academic Appointment” (Lithy makes his threat on p. 538 and carries it out on p. 565).
10. Jean-Marc Beguin, “Jean Ziegler, Retreat Under Fire,” Le Temps, November 1, 1999 [French].
11. Koch, “Drummer.”
12. Beguin, “Retreat Under Fire.”
13. Koch, “Drummer.”
14. “A Future Ethiopian Constitution: Jean Ziegler, Expert,” 24 Heures, July 11, 1986 [French].
15. Jean-Claude Buhrer, “Jean Ziegler Before the Bar,” Le Monde, July 26, 1993 [French]. The article also describes Ziegler’s quiet campaign of defamation against a Social Democratic party competitor, Christianne Brunner, including his leaks to journalists about compromising photos and his persistent questioning of her morals.
16. “Mugabe Has History and Morality with Him,” L’Hebdo, August 22, 2002 [French].
17. Jean Ziegler, interview with AlAkhbar, September 18, 2006, quoted in “Second Statement Before the Human Rights Council by Israeli Permanent Representative Yitzhak Levanon,” October 4, 2006.
18. Roger Garaudy, The Founding Myths of Modern Israel (Newport Beach, Calif.: Institute for Historical Review, 2000). The Institute for Historical Review is the world’s largest publisher of Holocaust denial materials. See also Patricia Briel, “Jewish Invitees to the Tent of Dialogue Removed from Guest List,” Le Temps, July 1, 2004: “In fact, like Jean Ziegler and Father Pierre, Michel Lelong defended Roger Garaudy in 1996, when the latter had been attacked about the publication of his revisionist book” [French]. “Revisionisme” is the standard French term for Holocaust denial.
19. “Developments in the Kingdom of Frenzy,” Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust website, www.codoh.info/inter/intchron1.html [French].
20. Paul Berman, “Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?” The New Republic, May 29, 2007.
21. Martin Beglinger, “Under Suspicion,” Das Magazin, January 7, 2006,www.signandsight.com/features/586.html [German].
22. Beglinger, “Under Suspicion.”
23. Beglinger, “Under Suspicion”; see also “Tariq Ramadan, Genesis of a Muslim Star,” Le Temps, January 28, 2004 [French].
24. Beglinger, “Under Suspicion”; see also Berman, “Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?”
25. See Switzerland’s Nominee to the UN Human Rights Council and the Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize, UN Watch Report, June 20, 2006. Many of the articles cited below can be read in their entirety in the attachments to the report, available at www.unwatch.org/ziegler.
26. Bruce Palling, “Qaddafi Funds Peace Prize,” The Independent, April 25, 1989.
27. Pierre Huguenin, “The Nobel of Qaddafi: Libyan Authorities Create a New Human Rights Prize--Jean Ziegler Gets Involved,” UN Watch, p. 6, originally published in L’Hebdo, April 27, 1989 [French].
28. In addition, Ziegler has played a significant role in North-South 21, the Geneva group set up by the Libyans to manage the Qaddafi Prize. Tellingly, this group has been accredited by the UN as a “non-governmental” organization. See Switzerland’s Nominee, p. 6.
29. See “Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Considers Report of Libya,” UN press document, March 3, 2004, www2.unog.ch/news2/documents/newsen/crd04009e.htm: “The Libyan delegation... hoped that the committee was aware of all the activities that the Libyan Government had undertaken to uphold human rights. The Qaddafi Human Rights Award was created in 1989 and was bestowed [on] those who had exemplified the values of human rights.” Additionally, in a cynical attempt at credibility, the first award was granted to a genuine human rights activist, Nelson Mandela.
30. Malik Ozden, “The Iraq War Makes the Ice Creak at the UN,” Le Courrier, April 11, 2003 [French].
31. Switzerland’s Nominee.
32. See “Qaddafi Human Rights Prize Awarded to President Chavez,” Jamahiriya News Agency (Jana), November 24, 2004 [French]. The article lists past recipients of the prize, including Ziegler.
33. “Swiss Human Rights Campaigner Turns Down Qaddafi Award,” Agence France Presse—English, October 1, 2002; “‘Qaddafi Prize for Human Rights’ Stipend Refused by Jean Ziegler,” Schweizerische Depeschenagentur AG (SDA)—Service de base francais, October 1, 2002 [French].
34. “Jean Ziegler Refuses the Qaddafi Prize for Human Rights,” Le Temps, October 2, 2002 [French].
35. “Swiss Human Rights Campaigner”; “Jean Ziegler Refuses the Qaddafi Prize for Human Rights.”
36. “Jean Ziegler Refuses the Qaddafi Prize.” In fact, Ziegler has accepted awards, such as the 2004 “Swiss Award” for politics. See www.swissinfo.org/eng/swissinfo.html?siteSect=43&sid=5455611.
37. See www.gaddafiprize.org/HomePageAr.htm [Arabic]; “The Qaddafi Prize for Human Rights,” Jamahiriya News Agency (Jana), November 30, 2005, www.jananews.com/Page.aspx?PageID=16211 [French]. See also www.libyen-news.de/November2004-teil2.htm, which lists Ziegler as a 2002 Qaddafi Prize recipient in November 2004.
38. “The Leader State with a New Coat of Paint,” NZZ Am Sonntag, December 25, 2005 [German].
39. NGO statement opposing Jean Ziegler’s nomination to new UN post, available at www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1330815&ct=2165591. The signatories include Libya Watch for Human Rights, Libya Human Rights Solidarity, Mothers and Women Against Repression for Cuba, Plantados: Until Freedom and Democracy in Cuba, Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Hope for Africa International, UN Watch, International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA), Concerned Women for America, and the Cuban Democratic Directorate.
40. Michel Jeanneret, “United Nations: Jean Ziegler at the Heart of a New Polemic,” Le Matin, April 24, 2006 [French].
41. Koch, “Drummer.” 
42. “Jean Ziegler: The Return,” Le Temps, September 4, 2000 [French].
43. “U.N. Swiss Envoy Warns of Apocalyptic Consequences of U.S. Strikes on Afghanistan,” Swiss Radio International’s Swissinfo website, September 22, 2001, cited by BBC Morning Europe, September 23, 2001.
44. “Special Rapporteurs Tell Third Committee That Events of 11 September Severely Affected Efforts to Promote, Protect Rights to Food, Religious Freedom,” UN press release ga/shc/3660, November 9, 2001.
45. See “Swiss Rights Campaigner Urges Swiss Exile for Saddam,” Agence France Presse English, February 5, 2003.
46. See “UN Rights Expert Demands Aid Agencies Get Access to Feed Iraqis,” Agence France Presse English, April 3, 2003.
47. See FAO lists of countries facing food emergencies from September/October 2000 to June 2005 at www.fao.org/giews/english/fs/index.htm.
48. Jean-Guy Allard, “UN Special Rapporteur Describes U.S. Blockade of Cuba as ‘Unilateral Arrogance,’” Granma International, November 12, 2007. For more on this visit, see also letter from Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director, to UN High Commissioner Louise Arbour, February 14, 2008.
49. For an extensive list of Ziegler’s anti-American statements, see Jean Ziegler’s Campaign Against America: A Study of the Anti-American Bias of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, UN Watch, October 2005, p. 9.
50. “Jean Ziegler is Attacked in the U.S., at the IMM, and at the UN,” Schweizerische Depeschenagentur AG (SDA)–Service de base francais, January 27, 2003 [French].
51. Bernard Bridel, “Political Books: The Maelstrom of Globalization,” Le Temps, October 28, 2002 [French].
52. “Blockade of Cuba is Genocide, UN Rapporteur Asserts,” Prensa Latina, March 20, 2005 [Spanish].
53. “Eight Human Rights Experts Gravely Concerned About Reported Widespread Abuses in Darfur, Sudan,” U.N. Press ReleaseAFR/873, HR/CN/1065, March 29, 2004. See also Jonathan Fowler, “Nearly Twice as Many Iraqi Children Going Hungry Since Saddam’s Ouster, U.N. Expert Says,” Associated Press, March 30, 2005.
54. “According to the National Representative Jean Ziegler, ‘Shimon Peres Should Be Excluded from the Socialist International,’” Associated Press Service Francais, August 9, 1982 [French].
57. “UN: Policies Cause Palestinian Hunger,” United Press International, November 12, 2003.
58. Jean Ziegler, The Right to Food: Report Submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, UN Commission on Human Rights, 60th sess. February 9, 2004.
59. Jean Zeigler, Mission to the Occupied Territories: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, UN Commission on Human Rights, 60th sess. October 31, 2003.
61. “Jean Ziegler Compares Gaza Strip to Concentration Camp,” (Swiss) SDA--Schweizerische Depeschenagentur AG, May 21, 2004 (citing Swiss Blick). Ziegler said, “the Gaza Strip resembles a huge concentration camp,” and called on the European Union to suspend its free trade agreements with Israel to “impress Sharon.”
62. “Arab Boycott Office Warns Caterpillar It Will Be Blacklisted for Selling Equipment to Israeli Military,” Associated Press Worldstream, June 24, 2004.
63. At a briefing given by Ziegler in 2004 during the 60th session of the commission, I asked him to elaborate on his criteria for determining which countries merit a special mission and report. He responded that his decision was the product of lengthy consultation with civilian groups “such as the Red Cross.” However, according to the Red Cross representative attending the event, Ziegler never engaged in any such consultation.
64. World Radio Geneva made the same mistake in an April 2007 broadcast. It should be noted that the Human Rights Council does have a Special Rapporteur on PalestineProfessor John Dugardwhose distaste for Israel rivals Ziegler’s.
65. See Hillel Neuer, The Struggle Against Anti-Israel Bias at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Post-Holocaust and Antisemitism publication no. 40 (January 1, 2006).
66. Only after UN Watch protested did the UN leadership comment. Ziegler then became the only UN human rights expert in history to be publicly rebuked by the organization’s highest officialsUN secretary general Kofi Annan and UN high commissioner Louise Arbour. See “Annan Slams UN Official,” JTA, July 8, 2005; “Gaza Comments by Rights Expert IrresponsibleUN,” Reuters, July 7, 2005.
67. Ziegler, interview with AlAkhbar.
68. UN press conference, October 26, 2006, http://youtube.com/watch?v=ehUPTdNLpLA.
69. Jean Ziegler’s Campaign, p. 8, “Table A: Comparison of Jean Ziegler’s Treatment of the United States and Food Emergency Countries.”
70. Jean Ziegler’s Campaign, p. 8.
71. General Assembly resolution 48/141, December 20, 1993.
72. See Commission on Human Rights resolution 2003/25, April 22, 2003, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/CHR/resolutions/E-CN_4-RES-2003-25.doc.

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