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Jean Ziegler, Frankfurt Book Fair 2009

Jean Ziegler (born April 19, 1934) is a former professor of sociology at the University of Geneva and the Sorbonne, Paris. He was a Member of Parliament for the Social Democrats in the Swiss federal parliament from 1981 to 1999.

Nominated by Switzerland, he was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2000 to April 2008.[1] On 26 March 2008, he was elected for one year into the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. Despite objections from UN Watch he received 40 out of 47 votes to finish first in a field of seven candidates. He is also member of the advisory board of the human rights organization Business Crime Control.



Jean Ziegler was born on April the 19th 1934 in Thun, Switzerland. His father was the president of the town’s court and a reserve artillery colonel. He is married and has one son.

He studied at the universities of Bern and Geneva and has doctorates in Law and Sociology. He also earned his barrister brevet at the bar association of Geneva. Jean Ziegler was professor at the University of Grenoble and until 2002 at the University of Geneva where he taught sociology. He also held the position of associate professor at the Sorbonne in Paris. On January the 17th 2009 he received an honorary degree from the University of Paris VIII.

In 1963 Jean Ziegler was elected at the municipal council of Geneva as a social democrat. From 1967 to 1983 and from 1987 to 1999 he held a seat at the Swiss National Council. While there he was the president of the “Swiss-Third World” parliamentary group. He joined the commissions for foreign affairs, science and international trade. After meeting Abbé Pierre in Paris he became the first director of the Emmaus community of Geneva.

Jean Ziegler was made knight (chevalier) of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1994. He has an honorary degree at the University of Mons in Belgium. He was awarded the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic. The Republic of Cape Verde awarded him the National Order of Amílcar Cabral, first degree. He turned down the Qaddafi Human Rights Prize in 2002 however.



Swiss banks and foreign assets

According to CNN, in 1997 Ziegler alleged that Swiss banking officials lied to protect the assets of Mobutu Sese Seko, former President of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Ziegler said, "This is grotesque... This is a financial empire and it is here in Switzerland."[2] In 1994 he already submitted to the Swiss parliament to arrest the finances of Mobutu and give it back to the country after the end of Mobou's dictatorship, but it was declined.[3]

Gaddafi Prize

A prize foundation fund in the name of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was established in Geneva in 1989, and Nelson Mandela was selected the first recipient of the fund's Gaddafi International Human Rights Prize.[4] An article in the Chicago Sun-Times identified Ziegler as one of the panel members administering the fund.[5] Time magazine reported that although Libya had funded the award, its winners were to be chosen by the Swiss foundation. Ziegler was quoted as saying that "ironclad guarantees" had been established to ensure that "Tripoli's influence would not be felt".[6] The Weekly Standard later reported that Ziegler described the award as a counterbalance the Nobel Peace Prize, which he supposedly called a "perpetual humiliation to the Third World".[7]

Gaddafi Prize officials announced thirteen disparate winners in 2002, including Ziegler and the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. Agence France-Press noted the irony of Ziegler, who had worked for Holocaust reparations in Switzerland, sharing the award with Garaudy.[8] Ziegler turned down the prize, saying that he "could not accept an award or distinction from any country because of my responsibilities at the United Nations."[9]

Ziegler's association with the Gaddafi Prize has the subject of criticism. Alan Johnson, writing for the The Guardian online in 2008, criticized Ziegler for "launching" the prize four months after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (which many believe to have been the work of Libyan agents).[10] Joshua Muravchik from the American Enterprise Institute also criticized his involvement with the award in a 2006 article for the Weekly Standard.[7]

Swiss banks and the Holocaust

In line with his claims about the crimes committed by the global financial system and capitalism, he attacked the Swiss banks in connection with the dormant accounts scandal.

According to Ziegler, his "defense of the interests of Jewish communities in their claims against Swiss banks earned him acclaim in the United States and in Israel," while he faced attacks and court procedures in Switzerland as a result of this work. In 1998, he testified before Senator Alfonse D'Amato's hearing on the assets of Holocaust victims by the US Senate Banking Committee, against the Swiss banks and in support of the claims of the World Jewish Congress. His book The Swiss, the Gold and the Dead: How Swiss Bankers Helped Finance the Nazi War Machine was published in America in 1998.[11]

Relationship with Ethiopia

During the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s, Ziegler described the world as an "immense extermination camp", wherein 40,000 people died of hunger every day. He blamed this on an economic system that allowed the rich to become richer, and the poor to become poorer.[12]

Some of Ziegler's critics have accused him of working as an adviser to Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in the drafting of Ethiopia's 1986 constitution, which established the country as a one-party state.[13]

Interactions with Iraq

During the buildup to the 1990 Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein took several Swiss nationals in Iraq as hostages. Ziegler was involved in efforts to release them, initially working with former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella and later traveling to Baghdad himself as part of an independent delegation that managed to secure the release of some hostages. The Swiss government did not endorse this effort, and Ziegler argued that his delegation could have freed all of the hostages had the government agreed to allow the export to Iraq of medicines and powdered milk for children.[14]

Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Ziegler proposed that Saddam Hussein be granted a Swiss exile to prevent war from breaking out. The Swiss government did not take up this proposal.[15]

Interactions with North Korea

Ziegler had several interactions with the government of North Korea while serving as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In 2001, he reported that some of the one million tonnes of aid provided by the World Food Programme had been taken by the army, the secret services and the government.[16] In April 2004, a writer in the Asian Wall Street Journal called on North Korea to accept Ziegler's repeated requests for a visit, and to help establish an accountable network for food aid.[17] Later in the same year, Ziegler said that five of his requests to visit North Korea had been turned down by officials in Pyongyang.[18]

Support for Cuba

Ziegler has praised Cuba, stating in November 2007 that it is a world model for how it provides its people with food and praised it for cooperating with the United Nations and agreeing to allow him to report on the country's respect for the "right to food."[19] Reuters reported:

"We cannot say that the right to food is totally respected in Cuba, but we have not seen a single malnourished person," [Ziegler] said...

[His visit] was the first by a U.N. rights rapporteur to Cuba in almost a decade. He was invited by Havana after the U.N. Human Rights Council, of which Cuba is a member, decided in June to stop the scrutiny of human rights abuses in Cuba...

Ziegler said his visit was a sign that Cuba was willing to cooperate on human rights with the new U.N. body and would pave the way for visits by other rapporteurs.[20]

According to the National Post,

As early as 1964, Professor Ziegler expressed his admiration for the Cuban communists. That year, he served as Che Guevara's chauffeur when Guevara was on a trade mission in Geneva for the Cuban government. He was convinced by Guevara not to emigrate to the island nation, but to stay in Western Europe where he might fight more directly the enemies of Cuba's revolution and international Marxism...

Ziegler permitted undercover Cuban agents to monitor a press conference he gave in Geneva prior to his [visit to Cuba]... [who] took note of journalists' question and tone...[21]

Concerning the event in Geneva, the Associated Press reported that a U.N. spokeswoman

...said she was unable to prevent two Cuban diplomats from entering the [press conference]...

The U.N. strictly prohibits government officials from attending news conferences unless they are explicitly invited and included among those presenting...

When the news conference ended and [she] confronted the officials, they said they were diplomats at a U.N. mission, but declined to say which country they represented.

"I can only regret this incident," she wrote in a letter to the U.N. correspondents' association in Geneva.[19]

Comments on Zimbabwe

Ziegler defended the principle of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's land reforms in 2002, saying that Mugabe had "history and morality on his side". He described agrarian reforms as "an absolute necessity" in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and was quoted as saying:

{{quote South Africa is threatened by a social disaster because it has not touched white lands. The whites are the colonisers... they are not people who came after independence and bought their land. They are on despoiled land." }}

He added that Mugabe's land reforms were being undertaken "in a despicable context", however, and said that agrarian reform under democratic conditions would bring "equitable distribution of the property titles to rural communities". He also clarified that he was speaking in a personal context, and not as a representative of the United Nations.[22]

Criticism of the United States

According to The Weekly Standard, Ziegler believes that the United States is an "'imperialist dictatorship' that is guilty, among other atrocities, of 'genocide' against the people of Cuba by means of its trade embargo."[7] The Inter Press Service reported that Ziegler

...accused U.S. and British forces of using food and water as weapons of war in besieged cities in Iraq...

He said that the U.S.-led Coalition forces and the Iraqi Army use the military strategy of cutting off food and water supplies to cities under attack by insurgents, which frequently use the civilian population as human shields. The objective is to encourage civilians to flee before the attack.[23]

Criticism of Israel

Ziegler criticized Israel's conduct in the 2006 Lebanon War, stating that the International Criminal Court should investigate whether Israel is guilty of war crimes for a bombing campaign in Lebanon that blocked access to food and water. Specifically, Ziegler stated that "The government of Israel should be held responsible under international law for the violations of the right to food of the Lebanese civilian population."[24]

Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the UN responded that "In all of his reports, Mr. Ziegler always transgresses the limits of his mandate. The latest report - which touches upon several external issues - is no exception." Israel also noted that Ziegler's report focused only on the impact of Israeli bombing in Lebanon and did not cover the effects of Hezbollah rocket fire on northern Israel."[24]

Ziegler, according to a pro-Palestinian website, stated on television that "the Israeli occupation is a colonial regime and an illegal military occupation from the UN's point of view, it continues to annex more Palestinian lands; and thus the Israeli occupation is the worst in the history of colonialism."[25]

The Forward reported in 2005:

In July, [Ziegler] told a crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Geneva that Gaza was "an immense concentration camp" and added that it was a good thing that the "guards" were about to leave.

Ziegler countered that he was acting in his personal capacity and was actually quoting an Israeli scholar when he made the remarks. He described as "absurd and patently false" the accusation that he was comparing Israelis to Nazis. He recalled his role in the enactment of a Swiss law criminalizing antisemitic and racist statements.[26]

Statements about Roger Garaudy

In 1996, Ziegler signed a letter of support for French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. He later clarified that this "expressed his respect for the latter's battle against all fundamentalisms -- and Muslim fundamentalism, in particular", and added that he "most firmly condemned all revisionist activity or ideas whose purpose is to deny or to minimize the genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazis".[27]

U.N. Appointments

Ziegler's appointment as U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food was criticized by The Weekly Standard, on the grounds that Ziegler is a sociologist by training and had no particular expertise on food or agriculture.[7]

Ziegler's appointment was also criticized by an independent group of human rights activists including Irwin Cotler and Per Ahlmark. This group criticized Ziegler for his associations with figures such as Gen. Mengistu and Robert Mugabe, his involvement with the Gaddafi Prize, and his support for Roger Garaudy. Their letter opposing Ziegler was issued by the group UN Watch.[28]

In March 2008, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American and the ranking Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, sharply criticized Ziegler's appointment to as an advisor to the UN Human Rights Council. Ros-Lehtinen's statement

...said "Mr. Ziegler has drawn criticism for his unyielding support of many of the world's most vicious dictators. He expressed 'total support for the Cuban revolution' and its leader, Fidel Castro, whose repressive regime has left hundreds of political dissidents to languish in jail."

Ros-Lehtinen also accused Ziegler of failing to address famine emergencies throughout the world and of using "his platform to consistently attack America and Israel"...

Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement after Ziegler's election saying it "attaches great importance to human rights and is pleased that a Swiss candidate will be able to contribute his expertise to the committee."[29]

The American Jewish Committee opposed Ziegler's bid for re-election to the UN Human Rights Office in 2009, citing his past support for Roger Garaudy and his criticisms of Israel.[30]


Jean Ziegler has criticised the uptake of biofuels as their production can come at the expense of growing food. On 26 October 2007 Ziegler told a news conference at the UN that "it's a crime against humanity to convert agricultural productive soil into soil ... which will be burned into biofuel... What has to be stopped is ... the growing catastrophe of the massacre (by) hunger in the world." [31]

Authored Works

  • Sociologie de la nouvelle Afrique ("Sociology of the New Africa"), Gallimard, 1964. ISBN 978-2070350599
  • Sociologie et Contestation, essai sur la société mythique ("Sociology and Contestation"), Gallimard, 1969. ISBN 978-2070351923
  • Le pouvoir africain ("The African Power"), Seuil, 1973, new edition 1979. ISBN 978-2020051835
  • Les vivants et la mort ("The Living and the Dead"), Seuil, 1973. New edition 1978. ISBN 978-2020047968
  • Une Suisse au-dessus de tout soupçon ("Switzerland Exposed"), 1976. ISBN 978-2020046831
  • Main basse sur l’Afrique ("Pillage on Africa"), 1978. New edition 1980. ISBN 978-2020056298
  • Retournez les fusils ! Manuel de sociologie d'opposition ("Turn the Guns Around"), Seuil, 1980. New edition 1991. ISBN 978-2020131025
  • Vive le pouvoir! Ou les délices de la raison d'état, Seuil, 1985. ISBN 978-2020089845
  • La victoire des vaincus, oppression et résistance culturelle ("The Victory of the Defeated"), Seuil, 1988. ISBN 978-2020130981
  • La Suisse lave plus blanc ("Swiss Whitewash"), 1990. ISBN 978-2020115971
  • Le bonheur d'être Suisse ("The fortune of being Swiss"), 1994. ISBN 978-2020227797
  • Charles Baudelaire, co-authored with Claude Pichois, 1996. ISBN 978-0099777106
  • L'Or du Maniema ("The Gold of Maniema"), Seuil, 1996. ISBN 978-2020283250
  • Les rebelles, contre l’ordre du monde ("The Rebels, Against World Order"), 1997. ISBN 978-2020086141
  • La Suisse, l'or et les morts ("The Swiss, the Gold, and the Dead"), 1997. ISBN 978-0140278583
  • Les seigneurs du crime : les nouvelles mafias contre la démocratie ("The Crime Lords: the New Mafias against Democracy"), Seuil, 1998. ISBN 978-2-02-091429-1
  • Le Livre noir du capitalisme ("The Black Book of Capitalism"), co-authored, Temps des Cerises Edition, 1998.
  • La faim dans le monde expliquée à mon fils ("World Hunger Explained to my Son"), 1999. ISBN 978-2020367530
  • Les nouveaux maîtres du monde et ceux qui leur resistent ("The new rulers of the world and those who resist them"), 2002. ISBN 978-2213613482
  • Le droit à l’alimentation ("The Right to Adequate food"), Fayard, 2003. ISBN 2-84205-696-5
  • L'empire de la honte ("The Empire of Shame"), 2005. ISBN 978-2-253-12115-2
  • "UN: Still Hungry to Bed", 2001.
  • La haine de l'Occident ("Hate For the West"), 2008. ISBN 978-2226186935


  1. ^ "Special Rapporteur on the right to food". UN Human Rights Council. Retrieved 2008-05-15.  
  2. ^ "Swiss banks find only $3.4 million in Mobutu assets". CNN. 1997-06-03. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  3. ^ "Mobutu. Vermögenswerte in der Schweiz". Swiss parliament. 1994. Retrieved 2009-04-18.  
  4. ^ "Mandela wins Gadhafi prize", The Record, 24 April 1989.
  5. ^ "Gadhafi honors Mandela", Chicago Sun-Times, 24 April 1989, p. 12.
  6. ^ "World Notes Prizes". Time. 1989-05-08.,9171,957634,00.html. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  7. ^ a b c d Muravchik, Joshua (2005-05-15). "Qaddafi's Good Friend at the U.N.". The Weekly Standard. Vol. 11, No. 33.  
  8. ^ "French Holocaust denier, Swiss campaigner for victims share Kadhafi prize", Agence France-Press, 30 September 2002.
  9. ^ "Swiss human rights campaigner turns down "Kadhafi" award", Agence France-Press, 1 October 2002.
  10. ^ Alan Johnson, "Appointment with Farce", The Guardian 5 April 2008. Ziegler has denied launching the award, and has said that he was merely "consulted". See [1]
  11. ^ Grose, Peter (1998-04-05). "Gnomes and Nazis". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  13. ^ Alan Johnson, "Appointment with Farce", The Guardian 5 April 2008.
  14. ^ "Italy criticises EC partners' efforts to free Gulf hostages", Reuters News, 16 October 1990; Samantha McArthur, "91 hostages freed from Iraq arrive back in Europe", Reuters News, 22 November 1990.
  15. ^ "Swiss rights campaigner urges Swiss exile for Saddam", Agence France Presse, 5 February 2003; Irene Harnischberg, "U.S. military planes banned from Swiss airspace except for Iraq surveillance, aid missions", Associated Press Newswires, 21 February 2003, 11:50 am.
  16. ^ “North Korean government hiving off food aid for itself: MSF”, ‘’Agence France-Presse’’, 30 July 2001.
  17. ^ Kay Seok, “Speak Out About Human Rights In North Korea”, ‘’The Asian Wall Street Journal’’, 16 April 2004.
  18. ^ Alan Campiotti, “Jean Ziegler défend les petits pêcheurs, oublie les criquets et prend une volée de bois vert”, ‘’Le Temps’’, 29 October 2004.
  19. ^ a b Klapper, Bradley S. (2007-11-14). "UN Regrets Undercover Cubans at Event". ABC News (Associated Press). Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  20. ^ Boadle, Anthony (2007-11-06). "U.N. food envoy praises Cuba, sees need for reform". (Reuters). Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  21. ^ "The farce at the UNHRC". National Post. 2007-11-15. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  22. ^ "Swiss sociologist defends Zimbabwean land reforms", Agence France-Presse, 22 August 2002.
  23. ^ Iglesias, Eulàlia. "Rights: U.N. Food Expert Condemns U.S. Tactics in Iraq". Inter Press Service. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  24. ^ a b "UN envoy tells international court to probe Israel for war crimes". Haaretz (Associated Press). 2006-10-05. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  25. ^ "Ziegler: Israel is the worst colonial regime". Palestinian Information Center. 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  26. ^ Perelman, Marc (2005-12-09). "U.N. Official Slammed for Criticism of Israel". The Forward. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  27. ^ ‘’Le Monde’’, 23 April 1996, p. 12.
  28. ^ "Suspension Of Jean Ziegler's UN Nomination Urged", UN Watch, 25 March 2008.
  29. ^ Engeler, Eliane (2008-03-26). "Outspoken Swiss Tapped by UN Council". ABC News (Associated Press). Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  30. ^ "AJC Criticizes Nomination of Jean Ziegler for UN Human Rights Office" [press release] 5 March 2009.
  31. ^ Lederer, Edith (2007-10-27). "Production of biofuels 'is a crime'". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-04-22.  

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