|Excerpts from Hillel Neuer's essay, Ziegler’s Follies, in Azure:|
“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. (…)
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. (…)
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. In response to the public controversy provoked by the book, Ziegler wrote a letter of support to Garaudy, which the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (codoh) - a group dedicated to the promotion of Holocaust denial - published in full on its website:
“I am outraged at the legal case they are making against you.... All your work as a writer and philosopher attests to the rigor of your analysis and the unwavering honesty of your intentions. It makes you one of the leading thinkers of our time.... It is for all these reasons that I express here my solidarity and my admiring friendship.” (…)
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. Many of them have refused to protest Ziegler’s support for such tyrannical regimes as those of Castro and Qaddafi even after being explicitly asked to do so by dissident groups. Instead of using their enormous influence to counteract Ziegler’s questionable conduct, the leading NGOs have enabled it.
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. It is this same climate of impunity that has led to such serious abuses of UN power as the Oil for Food scandal and the cycle of sexual abuse perpetrated by UN peacekeepers in Africa and Haiti.
It is therefore highly unlikely that the newly formed UN Human Rights Council will change the direction set by its predecessor. Libya, for example, has recently been elected to chair the council’s anti-racism program, which is scheduled to culminate in a 2009 “Durban Review Conference,” likely to be a repeat of the notorious anti-Western and antisemitic colloquium held in 2001. Condemnation of Israel remains the council’s first and, it often seems, only priority.”
Hillel Neuer is executive director of UN Watch in Geneva