Friday, May 02, 2008

Ziegler’s UN Follies

From Azure Magazine, Spring 5768 / 2008, No. 32, by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch in Geneva [very brief excerpts only - follow the link to the full article, complete with copious references]:

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 one more triumph in a remarkable career....

.... 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.....

... even some of his most prominent defenders have acknowledged that his work is not always trustworthy. His mentor Roger Girod, head of the University of Geneva’s sociology department, conceded while arguing for Ziegler’s tenure that “the pamphleteer is never wholly absent” in his scholarship and that “the most penetrating analyses are marked by polemical partisanship.” Moreover, Girod continued, “since he writes rapidly, Jean Ziegler does not eliminate his factual errors.” Girod’s support notwithstanding, the 1977 decision to grant Ziegler tenure provoked outrage from several scholars and public figures in Switzerland, one of whom, the historian Herbert Lithy, carried through on a threat to return his honorary doctorate in protest.

Indeed, Ziegler himself has admitted that in the struggle to convey his overarching message, facts are not always his first concern.

He claims that as a child in Switzerland in the 1940s he witnessed a train accident in which a crashed vehicle was revealed to be carrying Nazi weapons, demolishing his youthful illusions about his country’s alleged neutrality. Ziegler presents this incident as a primal, formative experience, essential to the shaping of his adult character. Der Spiegel has reported, however, that there is no record of such a crash, and Ziegler’s own sister thinks he invented the story. Indeed, Ziegler’s strained relationship with the truth has led one Swiss reporter to conclude a lengthy profile of the UN Special Rapporteur by describing him as a “menteur et affabulateur”--a liar and a teller of tales....

... For the most part, Ziegler’s advocacy has been undertaken on behalf of dubious and troubling causes.

...Ziegler has actively supplied political and diplomatic aid to some of the most brutal regimes in recent memory. Ethiopian dictator colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, accused of widespread human rights violations and of bringing his country to starvation, handpicked Ziegler in 1986 to be one of five experts who prepared a constitution calling for one-party rule--Ziegler was the only one from outside the Soviet bloc.

Ziegler has also paid visits to Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Kim Il Sung in North Korea, and in 2002 he fawned over Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe--then in the midst of engineering mass famine through violent land seizures--saying, “Mugabe has history and morality with him.”

Regarding Hezbollah, Zeigler has stated that “I refuse to describe Hezbollah as a terrorist group. It is a national movement of resistance.”

Ziegler has also helped to promote and protect the careers of several European intellectuals with questionable if not disturbing reputations. In April 1996, for instance, he came to the defense of Roger Garaudy, a former French Stalinist and convert to Islam whose book The Founding Myths of Modern Israel denies the Holocaust....

...Ziegler has also come to the aid of Tariq Ramadan, the controversial Islamic author who has written in praise of his maternal grandfather Hasan al-Banna, the Egyptian founder of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, and Sheikh al-Qaradawi, the contemporary theologian of the human bomb.

Ramadan, also reared in Geneva and now a leading European intellectual, is a close friend of Ziegler and his family: He stuffed envelopes, made phone calls, and put up posters for Ziegler’s parliamentary election campaigns. This affection apparently is reciprocated.

In 1993, Ramadan wrote an open letter protesting the staging of Mahomet--a play written in 1736 by the French philosopher Voltaire--in Geneva, on the grounds that it would offend the Muslim community. Ziegler’s wife, Erika Deuber Ziegler--a member of the communist-affiliated Swiss Party of Labor and then director of the cultural affairs department for the city of Geneva--promptly blocked the performance by withholding a 310,000 franc subsidy.

Five years later, when his dissertation to the University of Geneva was rejected, Ramadan turned once again to Ziegler and his wife for assistance. Ramadan’s thesis recast the Muslim Brotherhood as a progressive social and religious movement and excised its teachings of jihad and misogyny, not to mention its support for Nazi Germany--a position that struck Ramadan’s two French supervisors as so untenable that they refused to award him a commendation. After Ziegler and his wife threatened a public scandal, however, a new jury of supervisors was formed--an exceedingly rare occurrence. With the removal of a few passages, Ramadan’s work was approved, giving him the academic credentials that have allowed his career to flourish.

Most striking, however, is Ziegler’s role in co-founding, co-managing, and eventually winning the Muammar al-Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. In April 1989, just a few months after Pan Am flight 103 was blown up by Libyan intelligence agents, killing all 259 people on board, Ziegler announced the prize’s creation. It was widely believed to be a transparent attempt to change Libya’s damaged international image as a terrorist state. The British newspaper The Independent, for instance, wrote:
Until now, the main international peace prize has been funded by a company which manufactures explosives for weapons. If we can believe reports from Geneva, the next big award in this field will be sponsored by a regime which specializes in giving them away. According to Jean Ziegler, the Socialist MP who is Switzerland’s answer to the late Abbie Hoffman, the $250,000 prize will bear the name of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, who has provided a $10 million fund for it.… Mr. Ziegler said the award was designed to be the “Anti-Nobel Prize of the Third World.” The Swiss gadfly is the perfect person to represent such a foundation, as he has long been a professional Third Worlder.

... Ziegler was not only a member of the prize’s founding jury, but essentially its unofficial spokesman....

...Libya has used the prize to galvanize and unite prominent opponents of the United States. Among others, the award has been granted to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and “the children of Iraq and victims of hegemony and embargoes.” Finally, the prize has celebrated prominent racists and antisemites. For example, Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader known for his black supremacist ideology and his frequent antisemitic statements, was awarded the Qaddafi Prize in 1996. Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Bin Muhammad--who told an October 2003 meeting of Islamic nations that Jews were responsible for all the world’s ills--was granted the prize in 2005. Other winners have included “the stone-throwing children of Occupied Palestine.”

In 2002, thirteen “intellectual and literary personalities” were given the prize for their “thought and creativity.” One of those chosen by the prize committee was Garaudy, the French Holocaust denier. Another was Ziegler himself....

...The vitriol of Ziegler’s anti-Americanism is particularly striking when compared to his criticism of other countries. He has referred to President Bush, for example, as “the Pinochet who sits in the White House,” asserted that the American government is an imperialist dictatorship that uses “predators” and “mercenaries” to implement world domination, and claimed that the United States is committing “genocide” in Cuba. By contrast, Ziegler has referred to the genocide in Darfur as a mere cause for “concern”, and has characterized Khartoum’s role in the atrocities as “alleged.”

Ziegler’s attitude toward Israel is equally intense. As far back as 1982, during the First Lebanon War, he unsuccessfully lobbied for the expulsion of Shimon Peres, then head of Israel’s Labor party, from the Socialist International. Less than a year into his term at the UN, Ziegler delivered a report accusing Israel of policies that “created hunger and threaten starvation of the most destitute.” In January 2003, he told Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya, an Egyptian quarterly, that the policies of “colonial repression” practiced by Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials are “criminal and classifiable as crimes against humanity.” He declared that “an international force is urgently required to ensure that no further demolition of houses and destruction of livelihood of the Palestinian people take place.” Later that year, after testifying before the UN Third Committee on Human Rights, Ziegler informed journalists that Israel was responsible for inflicting “some form of brain damage” upon Palestinian children.

The peak of Ziegler’s anti-Israel rhetoric came in 2004, however, with his presentation of a report to the Commission on Human Rights describing his visit to the West Bank and Gaza--significantly, the only foreign locale he had visited that year. His twenty-five-page report accused Israel of numerous violations of human rights while simultaneously exculpating Palestinian terrorist groups from any responsibility for the conflict. Ziegler then swiftly issued a UN press release that “urgently” condemned Israel for destroying tunnels used by Palestinians for smuggling weapons and called for an “outpouring of condemnation” against the Jewish state. The Israeli army was accused of torturing and killing civilians, and then-prime minister Ariel Sharon of committing “state terror.”

In May of that year, Ziegler also authored a letter to Caterpillar Inc., on official UN stationery, urging the maker of bulldozers and other heavy equipment to boycott Israel, a demand soon adopted by the Arab League’s Central Boycott Office in Damascus. A few months later, Ziegler fired off another official UN letter, this time to the European Commission, urging it to cancel its trade agreement with Israel because of the latter’s alleged violations of the Palestinians’ right to food. This final missive was particularly bizarre because by the UN’s own standards, the food, situation in the Palestinian territories has never come remotely close to the “catastrophe” Ziegler described, nor has it ever been ranked as one of the world’s food emergencies. In fact, when the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition compared nutritional risk in selected refugee populations in November 2003, the West Bank and Gaza ranked lowest.

Ziegler had by this time become so identified with the Palestinian cause that when reporters in Brussels asked the Commission on Human Rights for a response to the report, they identified him as the “Special Rapporteur on Palestine”--a position Ziegler has never held. ...

... at a pro-Palestinian rally in Geneva, he called Gaza “an immense concentration camp,” and Israeli soldiers “concentration camp guards.” The following year, the Second Lebanon War galvanized Ziegler’s renewed involvement in the region. During the war, the Human Rights Council sent a mission to the war zone to document Israeli “war crimes.” In addition, four of the council’s human rights experts conducted their own fact-finding mission. Yet Ziegler decided to visit Lebanon in order to conduct his own inquiry into alleged Israeli violations of the Lebanese people’s right to food. While in Lebanon, he referred to Hezbollah as a legitimate political organization. At the conclusion of the mission, he held a UN press conference in which he called for Israeli officers to be prosecuted for war crimes....

....There are several reasons Ziegler’s official conduct remains largely unchallenged: First, there is the role that major NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, play at the UN. Few people outside the institution realize just how influential NGOs have become within the UN’s Byzantine human rights system. In fact, they wield immense power: They initiate the creation of new mandates, nominate the mandate-holders, and supply much of the data then cited by the newly appointed experts, who are unsalaried and understaffed. In short, the legitimacy of every UN human rights official lies in their hands. Among the major NGOs, some have openly endorsed Ziegler, while others have been complicit through silence. ...

....Second, there is the peculiar culture of the UN itself. Among European officials, more than a few may secretly admire Ziegler’s forthright anti-Americanism and his rhetorical broadsides against Israel. Moreover, in what may be a strategic move on his part, Ziegler has largely refrained from criticizing specific European governments at the UN, thereby disarming potential opposition to his anti-American statements.

Most important, however, is the fact that UN diplomats prefer a certain measure of vice over bad publicity for the world body as a whole, leading them to indulge even the most problematic conduct by their peers. To be a UN diplomat is to be a member of an exclusive club that has the potential to reward loyalty with lucrative jobs and benefits from an array of interconnected foundations and organizations. This practically requires that members “go along to get along”--or face the loss of their professional future. For all these reasons, UN officials such as High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, despite repeatedly being asked to speak out against Ziegler’s politicization of his mandate, have--with one exception in 2005--chosen to remain silent. Whatever Jean Ziegler may say or do, he is still one of their own....

....Taking all of this into consideration, one can only conclude that the Swiss government’s decision to nominate Jean Ziegler to the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee may well be right...He and his career are what the UN’s highest human rights body has become in microcosm.

And just like Jean Ziegler, if the UN as a whole continues on its current path, not only its image and institutional legitimacy will suffer, but so will all the great good which it once set out to do.

No comments: