UN hunger expert hails Syrian “openness” & “excellent” cooperation

Above: The UN Human Rights Council’s Cuban-sponsored Olivier De Schutter, left, with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad. Damascus, 2010.

Today the UN Human Rights Council’s “right to food” expert made international headlines with a stinging report on the urgent food crisis in. . . Canada.  How absurd.

On May 4th, just before Olivier De Schutter began his 11-day investigation of the great Canadian food emergency, I asked his Geneva spokesperson, Ms. Yoonie Kim, what her boss planned to say about the genuine  hunger situation facing 500,000 people in Syria.

She replied that De Schutter had no plans to say anything at all about Syria. This, she explained, was because (a) he had no first-hand knowledge of the situation and (b) other UN officials were already dealing with it. Funny, neither supposed obstacle has ever prevented him from opining sharply on all kinds of other situations around the globe.

De Schutter’s defenders — including Peggy Hicks, the global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch and a former official at the UN human rights office– seek to defend his sense of judgment and priorities by pointing to his visit to Syria back in 2010. In fact it proves the exact opposite.


1. De Schutter went to Syria at the invitation of the Assad regime. Likewise, the Communist regime of China also ran after De Schutter, just as Cuba’s regime rolled out the red carpet for De Schutter’s predecessor, the founder of the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize, Jean Ziegler. Funny, because these regimes never seek out independent investigations. Why the exception for De Schutter & Co.? Read on.

2. During his visit, De Schutter held out Syria’s Assad regime  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. De Schutter has never disputed the contents of this or any other Syrian report on his visit.

3. What is more, 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.

4. De Schutter praised the Assad 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 everyone in the world finally knows about Syria’s  regime, it is time for De Schutter to renounce his preposterous comments — and to apologize.

When I called De Schutter a fraud, linking to my recent National Post oped, Ms. Hicks tweeted this to me:

Peggy Hicks@hickspeggy
.@HillelNeuer Can’t you disagree w/o the personal attack? Pushing to end hunger in countries that have means to do so doesn’t seem so wrong

I replied in several tweets:

Hillel Neuer@HillelNeuer

@hickspeggy What’s “personal” about exposing UNHRC food expert’s praise of #Syrian regime & his being a stooge of Cuba & anti-Western bloc?

My point is simple:

1: The holder of a #Cuba-created post, who curiously gets invites from Assad & China, has zero credibility.

2: Even assuming his #Canada facts are true, I query his policy prescriptions. Indeed, top UN experts reject his policies.

3: Even if his facts & remedy are true, it is foolish & criminal for a doctor to attend to broken legs (in this case, more like bruised knees) instead of heart attacks.

Your own NGO, Human Rights Watch, aims “to bring the world’s worst abusers to account.” Shouldn’t the UN’s food expert do the same? Why Canada?


May 17 Update

Yesterday I invited Ms. Hicks to post a full reply here, instead of just exchanging twitter soundbites, but we haven’t received anything yet. A full debate would be a good thing. Clearly she believes De Schutter is helping the cause of hungry people, whereas I think he’s a charlatan and a fraud. Like the World Food Program  and the UN High Level Task Force, I think his approach actually harms the cause of hungry people.

Some key facts that De Schutter and his supporters didn’t want Canadians to know this week:

1. Contrary to what  the Toronto Star’s David Olive reported, De Schutter does not speak for the UN. As an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Council, holding a mandate initiated by Cuba and other tyrannies, he reports to the council but speaks only for himself. As High Commissioner Pillay confirmed to me in a letter, “special procedures mandate-holders are neither representatives nor employees of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights”; instead they  serve  “in their independent capacities.”

2. Major UN voices — those who actually do serious work — reject the Cuban-created, politicized “right to food” mandate of the Human Rights Council, first held by Jean Ziegler, and now De Schutter.

3. Though it never said so in public, Wikileaks revealed that the World Food Program privately informed Kofi Annan that  De Schutter’s predecessor engaged in “profoundly immoral” politics which harms millions of starving people.

4. Likewise, leading international authorities reject De Schutter’s ideologically extreme  policy prescriptions, especially those against trade. As noted by WTO chief Pascal Lamy, experts fundamentally disagree with De Schutter’s assertion that countries need to limit reliance on international trade to achieve food security objectives.

5. On the contrary, most UN-led experts agree that international trade is part of the package of solutions to achieve food security. The UN High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis in their 2010 Updated Comprehensive Framework for Action noted that “more liberalized international markets would contribute to global food and nutrition security through increased trade volumes and access to diverse sources of food imports.” (“Updated Comprehensive Framework for Action”, United Nations High Level Task Force on Global Food Security Crisis, September 2010, paragraph 76.)

6. In addition, the G-20’s inter-agency report rejected De Schutter’s simplistic anti-trade approach by affirming that “trade is an essential component of any food security strategy.” They also found that De Schutter-like policies “that distort production and trade in agricultural commodities potentially impede the achievement of long run food security.”.(Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses”, Policy Report including contributions by FAO, IFAD, IMF,OECD, UNCTAD, WFP, the World Bank, the WTO, IFPRI and the UN HLTF, 2 June 2011, page 23.)

UN Watch