Friday, August 09, 2002

The following piece was written recently by Mr. Jan Marejko, a Swiss journalist, philosopher and consultant living in Geneva. The author has provided a copy for posting on our website.

Che Guevara lives at the UN

Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has just officially endorsed a report on the “right to food” by Mr. Jean Ziegler (Switzerland) who was appointed Special Rapporteur by the Commission on Human Rights in 2000. A few things have come to light, both through the content of this report and comments made by the Rapporteur himself.

In France and Switzerland, Jean Ziegler is known as a crusader against the horrors of capitalism. Some thirty years ago, he befriended Che Guevara in one of Geneva’s posh international hotels, the type of place where revolutionaries meet. Mr. Ziegler was indeed eager to join the world revolution, but his Argentine idol advised him to stay right there, in the belly of the capitalist beast, there where he could do the most good (or, damage, that is). Consequently, Mr Ziegler didn’t spend his whole time in Geneva. He left from time to time, travelling extensively in the Communist world. Usually he was a guest of one of the totalitarian rulers of the time and/or their cronies. In return for their hospitality, Mr. Ziegler praised their charm and charisma. Thus he went to Hanoi during the '80s, where he heaped praise upon General Vo Nguyen Giap and had kind words for Ho Chi Minh with whom he spent “unforgettable moments drinking tea under a golden sun.” The fact that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were at this time desperately trying to escape their country in search of freedom seems not to have registered, or was not worthy of consideration. Indeed, it would be hard to find an intellectual more stained by collaboration with evil regimes in the 20th century than Mr. Ziegler, but this has not prevented many Swiss “intellectuals” from hailing him as a beacon of freedom in the midst of the capitalist nightmare. In sum, he’s a case in point of a phenomenon French author Alain Minc recently identified: Switzerland is a land of extremes, not only in conformism but also in revolutionary outbursts from leftist luminaries.

Given his record, it is a touch ironic that the one intellectual who has been systematically blind to the roots of famine in the last 50 years has been rewarded by the United Nations with the job of - of all things - reporting on “the right to food.” As shown by French expert Sylvie Brunel, as well as others, famines nearly always have nothing to do with natural catastrophes. They have consistently been provoked by infamous regimes that stifle economic growth. North Korea today may be the next example, though Zimbabwe cannot be too far behind.

There's not the slightest indication Jean Ziegler is about to change his mind either. One of Switzerland’s main dailies, Le Matin, recently quoted him as saying that the dictatorship of world capitalistic finance was responsible for a steady increase in the number of people who have died of hunger since the beginning of globalization in 1996. In fact, he’s put a number on it: 100,000 people are killed every day by capitalism, he said. It is worth noting that in his capacity as an expert on world hunger, he characterised famine as a “genocide” as well as a “crime against humanity”, with the implicit suggestion that the American government was guilty for these crimes.

In her recent report, Mary Robinson takes uncritical note of Mr Ziegler assertion that “market economy cannot per se guarantee the basic needs of the whole of society,” and that “efforts should be made, as a matter of urgency, to incorporate respect for human rights, particularly the right to food, in the new trade agreements. In the French monthly Le Monde diplomatique, Jean Ziegler noted that the “right to food” had been incorporated in human rights in Vienna in 1993 with all states accepting this incorporation except the United States. He also made the additional and questionable observation that a majority of states consider that market economy should not be trusted when it comes to feeding the world population. Then he added that, the WTO, IMF and World Bank are backing Washington in preventing the right to food to be enforced. Demonstrators in Geneva got the message.

Since Mr Ziegler quoted by Mary Robinson “ provides examples to show that today the right to food is indeed justifiable and can be adjudicated by a court of law,” we are beginning to have a clear picture of what’s brewing at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Sooner than expected, this commission might indict the United States at the International Criminal Court for violating the right to food and further substantiate this indictment with charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

In the meantime, could we expect Jean Ziegler to comment on famines in such places as North Korea or Zimbabwe and come to the realisation that capitalism has nothing to do with them? It wouldn’t really fit with his revolutionary agenda. And yet, he wouldn’t have to go far. Several reports, some of which originate in the U.N. itself, estimate that three million North Koreans have already died from hunger in recent years. Anyone familiar with the tragedy of famine knows what that means. People don’t just sit under a tree patiently waiting until their bodies give out. Hunger has terrifying effects such as dementia and cannibalism. Recent articles have explained how the Chinese authorities are expelling desperate refugees on their border with North Korea. Of course this horror has nothing to do with globalization. North Korea’s ruling philosophy of Juche, or “self-sufficiency,” is as autarkic as it is communist and mad - but it’s patently the opposite of globalization or capitalism.

Recently we saw how officials from 183 countries met in Rome, where the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is based, to reassess the world food situation. Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac, among others, wisely decided not to attend, but Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was present while aid workers estimate that up to a quarter of his population is in danger of starvation. While some governments rightly see such meetings as a waste of (taxpayer) money, dictators eagerly attend, seeking legitimacy and handouts.

They’re generally not disappointed. Jacques Diouf, President of the F.A.O., announced that many more billions of dollars will be necessary to put an end to world hunger. Now he has Jean Ziegler’s report and Mary Robinson’s comments to make the case against globalization and capitalism. As Ms. Brunel, and other thinkers such as Jean-François Revel, have pointed out, the figures on what the Third World “needs” are always inflated for institutional reasons. Not only is it a source of income for dictators and international agencies, but it also provides welcome publicity for doomsayers. In making Jean Ziegler a special Rapporteur on the “right to food,” the U.N. shows that it is still an echo chamber for salon revolutionaries and enemies of prosperity. Che would be proud.

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