UN Watch Essay in Latest Edition of Azure

The latest edition of the intellectual journal Azure (Spring 2008) features the following essay by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. Click here to read full essay, or see excerpt below.

Ziegler’s Follies


On March 26, 2008, to cheers and acclaim, Jean Ziegler was elected by the newly formed United Nations Human Rights Council to serve as one of its expert advisers. It was hardly an unexpected development. Switzerland had announced his nomination in December 2007, beginning an unprecedented lobbying campaign by the Swiss government on behalf of its nominee, featuring, among other things, a glossy booklet sent to capitals around the world documenting his “unwavering commitment to,” “excellent knowledge of,” and “unstinting support for” human rights. Not for the first time, Ziegler, a former sociology professor, a member of the Swiss parliament, and currently the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, stood at the center of a perfect storm of adoration and acclaim. It was one more triumph in a remarkable career.

Granted tenure in 1977 by the University of Geneva, Ziegler founded and directed its Social Laboratory of Third World Civilizations. He has taught at numerous European universities, including the Sorbonne, where he served in 1984 as an associate professor of sociology and economics. In March 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Belgium’s University of Mons-Hainaut, where he was hailed as “the modern-day Condorcet”–the great Enlightenment philosopher of human rights. Ziegler is also the author of more than twenty books for popular audiences, most of which are dedicated to asserting that hunger and other human miseries are the inevitable products of Western capitalism and globalization. His works The New Rulers of the World and The Empire of Shame, for example, have become European best-sellers, distributed by leading French publishing houses and discussed by Ziegler in such forums as TV5, the international French-language channel. His literary success was officially recognized by the French Republic in 1994, when the Ministry of Culture named him a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. This prestigious honorific is awarded for contributions to the “radiance” of arts and letters in both France and the world as a whole. Not surprisingly, Ziegler lists the accolade prominently in his curriculum vitae.

Ziegler has found his greatest success, however, in the European media, which considers him a highly credible and well-respected authority on human rights. Leading newspapers such as France’s Le Monde, Le Figaro, Liberation, and La Croix as well as Geneva’s Le Temps quote him regularly. Profiles of Ziegler have also appeared in premier European magazines, such as the German weekly Der Spiegel. In Switzerland, the Foreign Press Association granted him its “Most Popular” award. “You are a little miracle,” declared journalist Daniel Mermet when he interviewed Ziegler in April 2007 for L-bas si j’y suis, a popular program on the public radio station France Inter. “[You have] an amazing… taste and feeling for denunciation and revolt.” In sum, Jean Ziegler is a darling of Europe’s academic, literary, and media elite.

To be sure, none of this would be problematic if Jean Ziegler were simply an innocuous idealist. But he is not. Besides being one of Europe’s most successful celebrity activists, Ziegler is also one of the continent’s most industrious anti-American and anti-Israel ideologues as well as a prominent apologist for a rogues’ gallery of Third World dictators, including Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. During Ziegler’s tenure as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the cause of world hunger consistently took a backseat to the promotion of his anti-Western ideology. At a time when the UN is heralding the reform of its human rights apparatus, replacing the discredited Commission on Human Rights with a new council which it has described as the “dawn of a new era,” the case of Jean Ziegler casts grave doubt on the possible success of this reform and reveals the precipitous and accelerating decline of the UN human rights system and the international human rights movement as a whole.

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