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UN Adviser Ziegler: US Aims to Sabotage Human Rights Council

Jean Ziegler spoke with DW-WORLD.DE about a lack of balance at the Human Rights Council, the role played by the US, and critiques of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's leadership style.

Swiss Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, gestures as he listens to Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, unseen, during a meeting in Havana, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007.

Critics have said sociologist Ziegler does not know enough about food or agriculture

Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and the author of the book “Empire of Shame,” was Special Rapporteur for the United Nations on questions of food resources. Now he is an adviser to the UN Human Rights Council, which is meeting in Geneva through June 18, 2008.

DW-WORLD.DE: Mr. Ziegler, the Human Rights Council is often criticized because southern countries outweigh western countries by a two-thirds majority. This means many suggestions from Europe are blocked. What needs to change?

Jean Ziegler: In the UN, each country has a vote. That can't be changed. Of course, a two-thirds majority is a strong power factor, but that does not mean there is a conspiracy. It's a good thing there is a Human Rights Council. All the important governments are represented – the only one that isn't part of it is the US. Aside from that, it is very representative.

A general view during the opening session of the 5th UN Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 11, 2007.

The commission meets in Geneva

Naturally the countries have different historical developments, values and interests, which are sometimes oppositional. In that case, the only thing that can help is dialogue. The Human Rights Council is a framework for that.

The US recently said it would no pull out of its observer status in the Human Rights Council. What role does the US play there today?

The Human Rights Council is the third most important entity in the UN hierarchy. But the US is completely withdrawing from it. They didn't want to run for office, and they will refuse any examination of their human rights situation. And now they have cut the portion of their yearly UN budget that would go towards the Human Rights Council. It is, in effect, a budgetary sanction.

The US was opposed to the council from the beginning. The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said the Human Rights council is dead weight. They have played a negative role ever since the council was founded, two years ago. There couldn't possibly be more sabotage.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is looking to replace Louise Arbour, who is stepping down as High Commissioner for Human Rights at the end of June. Meanwhile, diplomats and human rights groups are accusing him of a lack of transparency. Is Ban Ki-moon secretive?

The secretary general has the right, legally speaking, to name a high commissioner entirely on his own. But he is negotiating in a very un-transparent manner. It is dangerous, because there is a lack of public support. In terms of psychology, that's not good. There needs to be a big, open discussion … and then you need to create a profile. Like at a university, when you fill a new teaching chair. You advertise a position and say what is expected from the candidate.

So what should the secretary general do, concretely?

The secretary general needs to say what direction we want to go in with human rights. Do political rights have a priority over economic rights? For the US, Canada, Australia and other governments, there are no economic rights. In their concepts there is no right to food – world hunger can only be solved in the world marketplace. But for developing countries, economic rights are an absolute priority. These countries experience hunger. They experience underdevelopment and poverty. We have to make clear what is expected from the new high commissioner, rather than taking a Vatican-like approach of meeting behind closed doors and letting rumors fly.

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