MYTH: In their campaign letter last week to 200 Geneva embassies requesting support for the election of Jean Ziegler to the UN Human Rights Council, the Swiss Foreign Ministry asserted Ziegler’s “many achievements” in his former UN position promoting “the right to food.” Similarly, Ziegler himself insisted on Swiss Radio this week that he has never been criticized for his former work as UNHRC Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and that everyone at the UN approved and applauded his work.
FACT: Ziegler was criticized for abuse of mandate by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and High Commissioner Louise Arbour. Notably, Ziegler’s work as Rapporteur on food was strongly condemned by the UN agency that specializes in combating hunger.
The World Food Program (WFP) is the food aid arm of the United Nations system, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, feeding more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.
Here is what we know thanks to the Wikileaks release of a U.S. cable with the subject line: “WFP asks Support Of Secretary General Annan To Remove Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur On The Right To Food.”
In 2002, World Food Program Executive Director James T. Morris sent urgent letters to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning that Ziegler as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had engaged in “profoundly immoral” actions and “inflammatory” politics that endanger the lives of millions of starving people worldwide.
The WFP chief’s 24 October 2002 letter, published on Wikileaks, makes the most severe accusations against Jean Ziegler — and seeks to remove him.
In the letter, the World Food Program—the genuine expert on hunger—accuses Mr. Ziegler of making it “harder rather than easier for WFP to help hungry people fulfill their right to food in emergencies.” Mr. Ziegler, says the WFP, is “playing politics with aid,” and his actions and statements are “profoundly immoral” and “unconscionable.”
According to the World Food Program, the “clearly inflammatory politics played by Mr. Ziegler has had a negative impact on the lives of the hungry.” Moreover, Mr. Ziegler’s “public statements and the reports he has submitted to the General Assembly show a serious lack of understanding of economics and the details of the food situation in the areas he professes to analyze on behalf of the High Commissioner.
The Wikileaks cable also reveals that the late UN rights chief Sergio de Mello, in a meeting with WFP Acting Deputy Executive Director Jean Jacques Graisse, expressed “considerable exasperation with Ziegler,” saying that “the man had taken up half of [de Mello’s] time since entering office.
The WFP chief contrasts Ziegler with possible replacements:
There are so many talented, responsible, and humane people who could do an excellent job as the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. At the international food policy research institute and at major universities, there are a number of experts who understand the complexity of food security issues and whose careers have demonstrated a commitment—not to publicity—but to finding solutions to the chronic hunger that still afflicts the lives of so many of the world’s poor.