The National Post (Canada)
May 5, 2012, p. A20
By Hillel Neuer
|Olivier De Schutter is the UN Human Rights Council’s “Special Rapporteur on the right to food,” a post initiated by Cuba. Tomorrow he begins an 11-day investigation of Canada.
De Schutter’s senior adviser, Priscilla Claeys, previously worked with Oxfam Canada, part of the group that is unofficially coordinating his visit, and with Rights and Democracy—a Canadian agency soon to be shut down—where she collaborated with the UN office of Jean Ziegler, co-founder of the “Muammar Qaddafi Human RIghts Prize” and De Schutter’s predecessor.
“There is no food and no clean water, nothing,” Mahmoud, a 12-year-old boy from Homs, Syria, told Reuters Thursday. “There is no shop open and we only have one meal a day. How can we live like that and survive?”
According to the World Food Program, half a million people don’t have enough to eat in Syria. Fears are growing that the regime is using hunger as a weapon.
This is the kind of emergency which should attract the attention of the UN Human Rights Council’s hunger monitor, who has the ability to spotlight situations and place them on the world agenda. Yet Olivier de Schutter of Belgium, the “Special Rapporteur on the right to food,” is not going to Syria.
Instead, the UN’s food monitor is coming to investigate Canada.
That’s right. Despite dire food emergencies around the globe, De Schutter will be devoting the scarce time and resources of the international community on an 11-day tour of Canada—a country that ranks at the bottom of global hunger concerns.
A key co-ordinator and promoter of De Schutter’s mission is Food Secure Canada, a lobby group whose website accuses the Harper government of “failing Canadians…and [failing to] fulfill the right to food for all.” The group calls instead for a “People’s Food Policy.”
I asked De Schutter if his time wouldn’t better be spent on calling attention to countries that actually have starving people.
“Globally, 1.3 billion people are overweight or obese,” he responded via his spokesperson, “and this causes a range of diseases such as certain types of cancers, cardio-vascular diseases or (especially) type-2 diabetes that are a huge burden.”
In other words, the hunger expert is not even that interested in hunger, but the opposite. Sure, we should all eat less fries, but do Canadians need a costly UN inquiry to tell us that?
Before Canadians can take De Schutter seriously, they ought to ask him some serious questions about whether his mission is about human rights or a political agenda.
First, consider the origins of the UN’s “right to food” mandate. In voluminous background information provided by De Schutter and his local promoters, there’s no mention that their sponsor was Cuba, a country where some women resort to prostitution for food. De Schutter does not want you to know that Havana’s Communist government created his post, nor that the co-sponsors included China, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe.
These and other repressive regimes are seeking a political weapon to attack the West. That is why the first person they chose to fill the post, when it started in 2000, was Jean Ziegler. The former Swiss Socialist politician was a man they could trust: In 1989, he announced to the world the creation of the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize.
The award spread propaganda for its namesake, and elevated his ideological allies. Recipients include Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. In 2002, the prize went to convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy — and to Jean Ziegler himself.
From 2000 to 2008, Ziegler’s UN reports and probes turned a blind eye to the world’s hungry. Instead he attacked America, the West, capitalism and Israel. The human rights council applauded him, and repeatedly renewed his mandate. Only because of term limits did they replace him in 2008 with De Schutter, who praises and emulates his predecessor.
De Schutter’s consistent argument is that if there is hunger, Western countries are to blame. His attacks on international trade are so ideologically extreme that even Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organization and a member of the French Socialist party, criticized De Schutter’s approach for threatening to drive food prices higher and “exacerbating the negative impacts on poor consumers.”
|In 2010 visit, UN expert held out Syria as a model: “UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Oliver De Schutter hailed Syria’s efforts and national plans to achieve food security,” reported Syria’s SANA news agency, during his Sept. 2010 visit. Above: De Schutter, left, with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad.
De Schutter “pointed out that other countries could benefit from Syria’s experience.” While the UN official heaped praise on the Assad regime, he voiced scathing criticism of the West and Israel.
The Syrian regime rarely if ever welcomes international investigators, but De Schutter said that it was Damascus which reached out to invite him. He praised the regime for its “very high, excellent” level of cooperation and “openness.”
He said it was “extremely encouraging, the sign Syria is giving by being so open and transparent in its co-operation with the human-rights council.”
In light of what the world now knows, and Syria’s complete non-cooperation with the Geneva body, UN Watch today called on De Schutter to renounce his preposterous comments.
Second, even when they visit the right countries, Ziegler and De Schutter reach the wrong conclusions. Ziegler went to Cuba, but it was a staged visit that hailed Castro’s policies as almost divine. De Schutter went to Syria—in 2010, long before the current crisis — and mentioned several problems, but his report took pains to repeatedly praise the Assad regime.
Like Ziegler, De Schutter has repeatedly made one-sided attacks on Israel lacking any nexus to his mandate. Last July, he issued a pre-emptive attack against his own boss, in a press release titled “UN Special Rapporteur opposes Ban Ki-Moon’s conclusions on flotilla.” De Schutter was outraged that a panel appointed by the UN chief found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza, to stop Hamas importing Iranian missiles, was actually legal — contradicting what De Schutter’s human rights council had said the year before.
Hunger is a human rights issue. Tragically, what most interests De Schutter and his council is scapegoating the West. For the next two weeks, that means Canada.
Hillel Neuer, originally of Montreal, is executive director of UN Watch in Geneva.