Friday, March 28, 2008

'Bias and Hypocrisy' Displayed at UN Rights Council

By Patrick Goodenough International Editor

The United Nations' Human Rights Council has elected onto a panel of special advisors a left-wing Swiss sociologist with a record of sympathizing with the Castro and Mugabe regimes and criticizing the United States and Israel.

And in another move that drew fire, the U.N.'s top rights body also appointed an American academic strongly critical of Israel to a post dealing with Israel's conduct in the territories claimed by the Palestinians.

During its less than two years in existence, the Human Rights Council has itself been criticized -- by Western governments and two U.N. secretary-generals among others -- for focusing disproportionately on Israel, while paying relatively little attention to pressing rights issues elsewhere.

Meeting in Geneva on Wednesday, the council elected Swiss national Jean Ziegler as one of 18 members of an expert "advisory committee" that functions as the body's think tank.

Forty of the council's 47 members voted in favor of Ziegler, who for the past eight years has served as a U.N. "special rapporteur on the right to food." (The U.N. has around 20 such reporter-investigators, each focused on a particular country situation or on a theme such as racism or extreme poverty.)

Advisory committee members serve three-year terms and are eligible for re-election once. According to U.N. documents, requirements for the posts include "recognized competence and experience in the field of human rights; high moral standing; and independence and impartiality."

Among those who urged the Swiss government to rescind its nomination of Ziegler was U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In a letter sent earlier this week, Ros-Lehtinen accused Ziegler of "unyielding support of many of the world's most vicious dictators," and noted that a 2005 comment comparing Israelis to concentration camp guards had brought a reprimand from then U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Others who called on the Swiss government to withdraw the nomination included a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Canadian lawmaker and human rights advocate professor Irwin Cotler, and former Cuban political prisoner Angel De Fana, who now heads a U.S.-based organization focusing on political prisoners in his homeland. [...]

[...] U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based NGO, has been a longstanding critic of Ziegler, noting among other things his support for French author Roger Garaudy, a convert to Islam who has denied the Holocaust.

U.N. Watch monitored Wednesday's proceedings, and the group's executive director, Hillel Neuer, commented afterwards that "even within the benighted U.N. Human Rights council, today was a dark day for human rights."

Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Guillaume Scheurer was quoted by Swiss national radio Wednesday as saying Ziegler had "an excellent knowledge of all economic, social and cultural rights" and "immense independence."

The council, whose current members include China, Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, has held seven regular and six special sessions, with a large proportion of its deliberations dedicated to Israel.

Last year, it controversially decided to end mandates for special rapporteurs on human rights situations in Cuba as well as Belarus.

This week, China, backed by its allies, succeeded in blocking efforts to have the council debate the recent clampdown on dissent in Tibet where around 140 people have been killed since March 10, according to Tibet's government-in-exile.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly last November, U.S. envoy Robert Hagen criticized the council for what he called a "relentless focus on Israel," the elimination of the mandates relating to Cuba and Belarus, and a "reluctance to address principal violators and violations of human rights."

The U.S. decided against standing for council membership in 2006 and again last year. (CNSNEWS)

Read also "Lettre adressée par J. Ziegler pour défendre sa candidature de membre du Comité consultatif du Conseil des droits de l’homme" (UPJF)


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