U.N. Chief Urged to Investigate Official’s Complicity With Undercover Castro Agents

“Until Mr. Ban and Ms. Arbour take action, Jean Ziegler’s unethical conduct will cast a shadow upon the reputation and integrity of all the independent experts” — Hillel Neuer, UN Watch

Geneva, Nov. 13, 2007 — The U.N. expressed “regret” after one of its officials allowed undercover Cuban diplomats to attend a news conference where they sought information on a French journalist asking questions about Fidel Castro’s regime, the Associated Press reported today. UN Watch, the Geneva-based monitoring organization, called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and members of the UN Human Rights Council to order a full investigation into “the tangled web of Jean Ziegler’s collusion with the Castro regime.”

Mr. Ziegler, mandated by the council to address the “right to food,” recently returned to his native Geneva after an 11-day mission to Cuba, which he hailed as a world model for how it feeds its people.

At an October 11 press conference convened by Ziegler prior to his departure — where he announced that he would visit Cuba not to investigate violations but rather to praise its government — a journalist who asked critical questions was quickly singled out by undercover Cuban diplomats who had entered the room in violation of a strict U.N. prohibition. The officials asked other journalists to identify the name and agency of the reporter who debated Ziegler.

“I can only regret this incident,” wrote Elena Ponomareva, a U.N. spokeswoman, in a letter to the UN correspondents’ association, adding that she would share her thoughts with Ziegler “concerning the presence of members of the mission of Cuba at the press conference.”

According to Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, Ziegler’s complicity with the Castro regime extends far deeper. “If the U.N. is concerned that Ziegler allowed undercover agents of the Castro regime to intimidate journalists, this only underscores the need to fully and immediately investigate his entire mission to Cuba, which appears to have been choreographed from start to finish by Havana. Just imagine how jailed political prisoners feel when they see the U.N. singing the praises of the government that represses them.”

“Most of the UN’s independent rights experts do serious and vital work,” said Neuer. “Ziegler, however, is the only one who, by his own admission, visits certain countries — Castro’s Cuba, Khaddafi’s Libya — not to report on violations, but to praise the government and its leaders. It’s not only outrageous but illegal. Ziegler’s complicity with Cuba, the government he will be reporting on during his next UN presentation, constitutes an express breach of his obligations under international law to be objective and impartial. Until Mr. Ban and Ms. Arbour take remedial action, Ziegler’s unethical conduct will cast a shadow upon the reputation and integrity of all the independent experts — and of the UN human rights enterprise as a whole.”

Neuer released key facts about Ziegler’s deep entanglement with the Cuban government that he said needed to be addressed by U.N. investigators:1. Ziegler’s Cuban Alliance Breaches his Obligations to be Impartial and Objective

  • In 1998, Jean Ziegler, as co-founder and vice-chairman of the “North-South XXI” foundation that manages the Moammar Khaddafi Prize for Human Rights, gave the $250,000 annual award to Fidel Castro. (Report on Ziegler and Khaddafi Prize).
  • Cuba was the official sponsor of Ziegler’s UN appointment and renewal in 2000, 2003 and 2007. See resolution E/CN.4/2000/L.19, listing Cuba as sponsor; resolution E/CN.4/2003/L.27, listing Cuba as sponsor; resolution A/HRC/6/L.5 listing Cuba as sponsor. Ziegler has never disclosed this relevant fact during his recent mission to the country or at any of his press conferences.
  • Ziegler, whose usually acerbic language includes accusations that the U.S. commits “genocide” against Cuba, and that biofuels are a “crime against humanity,” routinely treats Cuba with special praise:
    • “Cuba was the first country to promote the right to food.” Report E/CN.4/2006/44 by Jean Ziegler, 16 March 2006, at p. 6.
    • “Ensuring access to food has remained a priority of the Government [of Cuba].” Report E/CN.4/2005/47 by Jean Ziegler, 24 January 2005, at p. 6.
    • “Twenty States in the world have Constitutions…refer to the right to food…One of the most explicit norms is the one contained in the Cuban Constitution…” (Report E/CN.4/2001/53 by Jean Ziegler, 7 February 2001, at 16).
  • In his UN reports and statements, Ziegler failed to mention his lifetime fascination with the Castro regime:

“At 4 o’clock in the morning one April day in 1964, Jean Ziegler was on the 12th floor of a luxury hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. A bright young Swiss academic with strong leftist leanings, he had spent a long day serving as chauffeur to the revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara, who was here as head of a Cuban trade delegation. In the early-morning stillness, Mr. Ziegler told Guevara that he wanted to emigrate to Cuba, to help the young Communist nation build a more just society. Guevara motioned to the shimmering lights of the wealthy lakeside city below. ‘Here is the brain of the monster,’ the revolutionary told the scholar. ‘Your fight is here.’” (Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 23, 1998.)

2. Ziegler’s Mission to Cuba Was Biased from the StartThe U.N. should investigate how Ziegler was allowed to use thousands of dollars from the Office of the High Commissioner to undertake a costly mission that breached due process and basic U.N. rules by declaring its partisan verdict from the start. After the council in June eliminated its expert on Cuba — whom Havana had never admitted — Ziegler was suddenly invited to visit. His declarations to the media of praise for Cuba before and during his mission include:

  • “Ziegler…says that his invitation is ‘a signal that Cuba is opening up to collaboration with the UN’ and wants to cooperate actively with the new UN Human Rights Council.” (Source: SwissInfo, 28 October 2007, “Cuba invites UN envoy from Switzerland“)
  • “The Cubans have found solutions regarding the right to food in difficult conditions,” Jean Ziegler (Agence France Presse, 31 August 2007, “Cuba issues first invitation to UN rapporteur.”
  • “I welcome the invitation. It is a sign that Cuba is interested in opening a dialogue with the Human Rights Council,” Jean Ziegler (DPA, 31 August 2007, “Cuba ends 20-year boycott of UN human rights experts”)
  • “Ziegler praised Cuba for ingeniously getting around shortages caused by the measure,” (Prensa Latina, 30 October 2007, “Cuba Fed Despite US, UN Rapporteur“)

3. How Castro Regime Used Ziegler Mission for Political PropagandaThe presence of Cuban agents in the Ziegler press conference was not accidental. The Castro regime carefully planned Ziegler’s recent visit as a major propaganda exercise for domestic and foreign consumption. Following are some of the many quotes of the U.N. expert played up by the Cuban media:

  • “Making use of great creativity, Cuba has been able to deal with food limitations and the suffering caused by the US economic blockade, said the UN Special Rapporteur.” (Cuban News Agency (ACN), 30 October 2007, “US Blockade of Cuba, an Attack on the Declaration of Human Rights”)
  • During his trip, “Ziegler will learn about several projects and programs underway on the island to guarantee food for all Cuban citizens and to keep advancing the construction of an increasingly fair society, despite the difficulties Cuba faced under the economic, commercial and financial war imposed on the country by Washington.” (Cuban News Agency (CAN), 29 October 2007)
  • “Ziegler said he did not see any undernourished person in Cuba, something that is commonplace in other countries… The visit to Cuba by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food expresses the will of the island to resume this kind of cooperation with world and non-discriminatory mechanisms of the UN in the field of human rights.” (Cuban News Agency (CAN), 7 November 2007, “UN Rapporteur: Cuba Protects its People´s Right to Food“)

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