Sunday, July 10, 2005

Remarks repudiated

The United Nations last week disavowed remarks by U.N. human rights rapporteur Jean Ziegler, who compared the Gaza Strip to a concentration camp and Israelis there to guards.

“His views are his own, not those of the United Nations,” said spokesman Farhan Haq. “The United Nations believes any comparison between conditions in Gaza and those of Nazi concentration camps is irresponsible. Such a comparison does not reflect the views of the secretary-general.”

Mr. Ziegler, a Swiss, told a pro-Palestinian rally near Geneva last week: “Gaza is an immense concentration camp. That the guards are today preparing to leave is a good thing.”

He also called for the unconditional withdrawal of all “colonists” from the West Bank, according to the French-language daily Le Courrier.

It is not the first time Mr. Ziegler, in his second three-year term as an authority on the right to food security, has interpreted his mandate somewhat broadly when it comes to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In 2003, he became the first human rights rapporteur allowed by the Israeli government to visit Palestinian territories. He came back with a report so harsh that it included a demand for a worldwide boycott on Caterpillar tractors, because these were the kind used by the Israeli army to rip up agricultural land and knock down houses.

Rapporteurs are appointed by the head of the Human Rights Commission and affirmed by the 53 nations serving on the panel. In 2003, only the United States and Australia voted against his reappointment, while Canada, Britain, Germany and France, among others, voted in his favor, according to Geneva-based U.N. Watch, which monitors anti-Semitism in the world body.

U.N. Watch protested Mr. Ziegler’s recent remarks in letters to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Louise Arbour, high commissioner for human rights.

Mr. Ziegler has been in Niger since Friday, according to the HRC, to raise awareness of the food situation there.

Iraq woos embassies

The new Iraqi government attempted to knit a diplomatic safety net this weekend to allay the feared exodus of envoys from Baghdad.

Iraqi officials have been calling, writing and meeting with embassies in Baghdad to urge them not to withdraw personnel.

On Friday, a day after the killing of Egyptian diplomat Ihab al-Sherif was confirmed by his captors in Iraq, the Egyptian government, with Baghdad’s support, won a Security Council resolution saying, “There can be no justification for such terrorist acts” and urged Iraq’s neighbors to support the political process by controlling Iraq’s borders.

The resolution also explicitly praised Egypt for “continued commitment,” probably intended to make it difficult for Cairo to reduce its mission in Baghdad. Some of Egypt’s six remaining diplomats were immediately evacuated, although a Foreign Ministry official insisted to reporters that this was temporary.

In recent weeks, insurgents or militias have targeted diplomats from Pakistan and Bahrain, while U.S. and British diplomats live under virtual house arrest inside the green zone.

The group that took responsibility for Mr. al-Sherif’s death has said it will continue attacking foreign diplomats.

Iraq has convened a meeting of interior ministers from Egypt, Bahrain and neighboring nations next Monday in Istanbul, aimed at bolstering security cooperation. Meanwhile, as some governments quietly draw down their Iraqi presence, Jordan has named a new charge d’affaires as a “first step” to appointing an ambassador to Iraq.

• Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at

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