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Outspoken Swiss Tapped by UN Council

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GENEVA —  Jean Ziegler, an outspoken legal expert who has angered Israel and Cuban-Americans, was elected Wednesday as one of 18 advisers to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The 73-year-old Swiss sociology professor, who has also displeased many in his homeland for criticizing Switzerland's banks, was elected to the council's advisory committee with 40 votes in the 47-nation body.

A former U.N. expert on the right to food, Ziegler praised Cuba as a model for feeding its population and claimed Israeli security measures had reduced Palestinians to begging.

The council's approval came over the opposition of a prominent Cuban-American in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She had demanded the Swiss government withdraw its support for Ziegler's nomination because of what she called anti-Semitic statements and support for dictators.

A statement from her office said, "Mr. Ziegler has drawn criticism for his unyielding support of many of the worlds 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."

"In July 2005, he characterized the Gaza Strip as an 'immense concentration camp,' comparing Israelis to Nazis," she said.

Israel accused Ziegler of being politically biased and said he used his office to embark on a media campaign against it.

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."

Ziegler, a former Socialist lawmaker, rose to prominence in the 1990s with outspoken criticism of neutral Switzerland's role in World War II and his accusation that Swiss banks prolonged the war by up to two years by cooperating with the Nazis.

He said Germans were dependent on Swiss francs _ the only convertible currency at the time _ to buy steel from Sweden and tungsten from Portugal to power their war machine.

In a series of best-sellers, Ziegler has accused the country's banks of providing a safe haven for the assets of many of the world's dictators and of turning a blind eye to money laundering.

He praised a $1.25 billion settlement Swiss banks reached with Holocaust survivors in 1997 after Jewish groups accused the bankers of failing to return the assets of Nazi victims.

The advisory committee has no power to make decisions. It provides expertise to the rights council, mainly in the form of studies and research.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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