Issue 123: UN Expert on Hunger Irrationally Ignores World’s Food Emergencies to Pursue Personal Political Agenda

News:  Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, announced at a UN conference last Thursday that he had written to Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, to demand suspension of its trade accord with Israel.  “Grave violations of the [Palestinians’] right to food have been recorded, they are clear, this accord must be suspended.”  Ziegler further declared that he will be writing again to the next President, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso (who takes over next month), to repeat his boycott demand.

Analysis:  Jean Ziegler has been waging a public relations war against Israel ever since his appointment four years ago, and now he has escalated his efforts to a trade war.  His demand that Europe boycott Israel follows a similar demand sent in May to a U.S. corporation.  UN Watch has been at the forefront of exposing Ziegler’s astonishing bias, and continues to fight for an end to his cynical abuse of a noble position.

When he should be speaking out for the hungry of Burundi, Chad, or Liberia — places that actually do rank as Food Emergencies — Ziegler is instead preoccupied with vilifying Israel for, as he puts it, starving the Palestinians.  His accusation will resonate with certain audiences.  Yet it carries one minor flaw:  whatever genuine problems do exist in the West Bank and Gaza, starvation is simply not one of them.   In fact, by any comparative measure, Palestinians are eating far better than neighboring populations.  If one looks at the percentage of underweight children — the most meaningful cross-country comparable indicator — the UN’s 2003 Human Development Report reports that the West Bank and Gaza has the lowest rate (3%)  compared with any state in the Arab Middle East, East Asia, the Pacific, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America (except Chile).  Yet a country like North Korea (60%) has never been targeted by a single Ziegler boycott letter.

The truth about Ziegler, as a simple Google search will reveal, is that his “right to food” activities are in fact initiated as part of orchestrated political campaigns.  Not coincidentally, Ziegler, who resides in Switzerland, sent his May 2004 boycott letter to Caterpillar three days after a political “action” notice was issued against this corporation by “Collectif Urgence Palestine” — a Swiss group, dedicated to boycotting Israel, with which Mr. Ziegler has been active.  Mr. Ziegler’s letter was then promptly posted on the website of this group’s boycott campaign.  How many other boycott letters Ziegler has sent is a mystery.  Their target is not.

It was telling on Friday that when reporters in Brussels asked the European Commission to respond to Ziegler’s latest boycott demand, they innocently described him as “the Special Rapporteur on Palestine” — not realizing this position is properly held by another individual (John Dugard, no great Lover of Zion he).  Then again, Ziegler doesn’t seem to realize that, either.

In July, UN Watch filed a brief with the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights requesting Ziegler be removed for blatantly violating his obligations to act with impartiality, non-selectivity and objectivity.  The Commission has yet to reply.  Meantime, a UN Watch delegation led by its Chairman, Amb. Alfred H. Moses, met last week with Louise Arbour, the new High Commissioner of Human Rights, to urge that she do her part against Ziegler’s wrongdoing.

But if the UN rights experts are independent, and accountable only to the Commission’s 53 member states, why should High Commissioner Arbour, who presides over a department of professional staff, be required to play any role here?

Two reasons.  First, to ensure that her staff no longer provides support related to Ziegler’s unauthorized activities.  That means her human rights officers must be instructed to refuse to help Ziegler with his unauthorized boycott campaign.  Second, to clarify that while Ziegler sends his boycott letters under the letterhead of “United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” he in fact speaks for himself only.

True, these are only two small steps.  But they would prevent the dangerous inference that the High Commissioner supports Ziegler’s unlawful activities.  More, they would send the right message that the world’s human rights victims are owed nothing less than the integrity of the UN mechanisms created for their benefit.


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