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Controversial rights advisor elected to UN council

Ziegler faced similar controversy when he held the same job from 2008-2012 Keystone

Jean Ziegler, a controversial Swiss rights expert and former food envoy, has been appointed to a United Nations Human Rights Council advisory committee in Geneva. Critics had attacked his ties to former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

This content was published on September 26, 2013 - 18:54
swissinfo.ch and agencies

On Thursday the 79-year-old former sociology professor received 33 votes of support from council members while 12 voted against him.

In an interview on Swiss television, Ziegler thanked the African, Arab and Latin American states that had voted for him, as well as the Swiss authorities.

"I'm very happy to be able to continue my work and fight within the council," he told RTS news.

Advisory committee members will work for a three-year term under the direction of the Human Rights Council, acting as a think-tank for the 47-nation body. The UN mandates that members have "recognised competence and experience in the field of human rights, high moral standing, and independence and impartiality".

The announcement in August that Ziegler would again be running for the post – he held the same job from 2008-2012 - was heavily criticised by the non-governmental group UN Watch.

The organisation, which monitors the work of the UN and has associations with Israel, accused Ziegler of having held close ties to Gaddafi and the Gaddafi Human Rights Prize. They claim he was the co-founder of the prize in April 1989 and a member of a foundation responsible for overseeing the prize as well as having received it. UN Watch said Ziegler always previously denied these links.

The sociology professor told the Swiss News Agency that he had indeed received the award in 2002 but due to his appointment as Special Rapporteur on the UN’s Right to Food council from 2000 to 2008, and following talks with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, he had sent it back 48h hours later.

US opposition

Ziegler, who was not present at the council on Thursday, claimed there was a campaign of defamation against him and an attempt to discredit the UN rights council. He said UN Watch had always been very critical of him ever since he published a report on the right to food in the Occupied Territories which had been very critical of Israel.

Opposition to his appointment had also come from the newly appointed United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power who said on Twitter that Ziegler was “unfit for continued service” at the UN rights council.

Ziegler told RTS that the US had spent months mobilising "considerable diplomatic power" both outside and inside the council to try to prevent his election.

The Swiss House of Representatives Foreign Policy Committee also expressed its opposition to Ziegler’s nomination on August 20. But the Swiss Foreign Ministry maintained its support, pointing to his service as Special Rapporteur on the UN’s Right to Food council from 2000 to 2008.

“One of his many achievements has been to make the right to food one of the main priorities of UN agencies and bodies which fight poverty and hunger,” the ministry said.

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