UN Rights Expert Has Controversial Track Record
By Patrick Goodenough
CNSNews.com International Editor
April 26, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - Among the many uncertainties hanging over the United
Nation's new Human Rights Council is the inclusion of a human rights
specialist who has defended dictators while consistently attacking U.S.
and Israeli policies.
Jean Ziegler, a Swiss academic and socialist politician, has since 2000
served the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) as a special
"rapporteur" (investigator/reporter) on the "right to food."
His mandate, which ordinarily would have expired last month, was
extended in 2003.
But the UNCHR, plagued by problems, has been scrapped and is being
replaced by the new Human Rights Council (HRC). The transition has
thrown everything up in the air, Swiss foreign ministry representative
Kamelia Kemileva said Wednesday.
HRC members will be elected in two weeks' time and hold their first
meeting in June.
Several months ago, the Swiss government put forward Ziegler's name for
another U.N. rights position -- as a member of a body called the
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
Comprising 26 experts, the body operated as the UNCHR's main subsidiary
body and "think tank."
Currently, it's not clear whether the Sub-Commission on the Promotion
and Protection of Human Rights will survive the changeover from the
UNCHR to the HRC, a U.N. spokesperson said from Geneva Wednesday.
At the moment, however, there is no indication that the subsidiary body
will be scrapped.
Ziegler's nomination prompted U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based
non-governmental organization, and 14 other NGOs to write to the Swiss
government, urging it to reconsider the decision.
They said that Ziegler's term as U.N. rapporteur "embodied everything
that was discredited about the old Commission on Human Rights: gross
politicization, selectivity, lack of professionalism and lack of
He had devoted his attention to "polemics against the West, capitalism,
the U.S. and Israel," they said.
Kemileva of the Swiss foreign ministry said that because the future of
the sub-commission was not certain, it could not discuss the Ziegler
But Hillel Neuer of U.N. Watch said from Geneva that the NGOs want
Switzerland to cancel the nomination completely.
Ziegler has been criticized for expressing support for dictators
including Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Among
the 15 NGOs to protest his nomination were groups representing victims
of the Libyan and Cuban regimes.
Ziegler's admiration for Gadaffi was such that in 1989 he helped to
establish an award called the Muammar Gadaffi Human Rights Prize. One of
the subsequent winners (2002) was Roger Garaudy, a French
communist-turned-Muslim who was convicted in 1998 on charges of denying
the Holocaust. Ziegler himself also won the Libyan award.
Last year, Ziegler was reprimanded by U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan
after he made comments, while visiting the Gaza Strip, comparing
Israelis to concentration camp guards.
Seventy U.S. lawmakers then wrote to Annan, urging him to ensure that
the rapporteur was replaced.
Ziegler also has outspoken views on U.S. policies.
He has long criticized the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and called
U.S.-backed U.N. sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq "indefensible."
Following the war that ousted Saddam, he blamed the U.S. military for
malnutrition among Iraqi children.
A U.N. Watch study released last October found that during the first
four years of his mandate as special rapporteur, Ziegler publicly
criticized the U.S. on at least 34 occasions.
By contrast, the NGO said, his criticism of countries where food
emergencies were occurring was either non-existent or muted.
The study quoted Ziegler as accusing the U.S. of committing "genocide"
in Cuba, and describing the U.S. as an imperialist dictatorship using
"mercenaries" to implement world domination.
"The vitriol of Mr. Ziegler's anti-American statements is striking,
particularly when compared to his mild criticism of other countries,"
said U.N. Watch.
"In his private capacity, Mr. Ziegler is entitled to his own opinions.
But Mr. Ziegler is not entitled to use his U.N. position as special
rapporteur as a platform to express his personal, political views having
nothing to do with the right to food," it said.
The UNCHR appointed Ziegler in September 2000. When it decided to extend
his mandate for another three years in 2003, Washington alone voted
against the motion. The U.S. envoy said Ziegler should not be retained
but be reprimanded for irresponsible statements and for abusing his mandate.
But apart from Australia, which abstained, the UNCHR's 51 remaining
members all backed the move, and Ziegler's mandate was extended.
In a speech in Washington last October, Mark Lagon, the State
Department's deputy assistant secretary for international organization
affairs, said one area where the U.N. could improve its human rights
work was in ensuring that special rapporteurs were more professional
He said this would ensure more consistency and objectivity in their
reports and "it might help with those who twist their mandates to attack
Israel, like the rapporteur on food, Jean Ziegler."
Invited to respond to the allegations raised by U.N. Watch, Ziegler this
week called them "ridiculous and defamatory."
He said ever since he published a report in 2004 on the humanitarian
situation in the Palestinian territories, U.N. Watch "has been engaged
in a campaign of defamation against me that has sought to attack my
Ziegler did not respond to the specific charges relating to support for
the regimes in Cuba and Libya and disproportionate criticism of the U.S.