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Moral Poverty at the UN By: Joseph Klein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 09, 2008

The United Nations’ World Food Summit held in Rome in 2002 to discuss how to cut world hunger in half by 2015 came under heavy criticism for the lavish feasts held during that conference.  However, this spectacle of UN extravagance during a conference devoted to hunger pales in comparison to the obscene presence of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN's three-day summit on the world's food crisis that opened in Rome on June 3, 2008.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which planned this year’s food summit (formally entitled the Conference on World Food Security and Challenges of Climate Change), provided political cover for two of the cruelest dictators in the world today.  Ahmadinejad and Mugabe used the food summit to condemn Western policies as the cause of the world’s food crisis and to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the privation existing within their own countries.  Introspection and accountability are not hallmarks of despotic rulers.

Zimbabwe is a case in point.  The world is trying to provide massive food aid to its people, only to be thwarted by Mugabe who has long used food as a political weapon and has exploited the starvation of his own people to ensure that they maintain their support for his continued one-man rule.  This mass starvation, in turn, was a condition that Mugabe had largely caused in the first place through confiscation of farmlands that turned into wastelands, the resulting precipitous drop in domestic food production and gross mismanagement of the economy.  The country, which was once known as southern Africa's "breadbasket", is on the list of 22 countries that the UN has singled out as particularly at risk of food shortages.

An example of Mugabe’s crimes against his own people occurred in 2005 when, with little or no warning, the Zimbabwe government embarked on an operation known as “Operation Murambatsvina.”   A UN report describing this operation recounted how it evolved into a nationwide demolition and eviction campaign carried out by the police and the army.  The UN report said that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were made homeless, without access to food, water and sanitation, or health care. The vast majority were the poor and disadvantaged segments of the population who were forced deeper into poverty and deprivation.

Mugabe’s latest action occurred in the midst of the current UN world food summit that he attended.  His government issued an order banning all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from distributing food to the starving populace.  This latest order will likely deprive millions of poor starving Zimbabweans of food and other basic necessities.  The ban will particularly impact the care of Zimbabwe’s over one million children orphaned by AIDS, and the terminally ill who are on home-based care programs, according to Amnesty International.

The order comes at the same time as Mugabe’s government is in the process of nullifying the results of an election held last March in which the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won a majority of the votes.  Forced into a run-off against Mugabe as a result of a rigged vote count in the March election, Tsvangirai has since been arrested twice and prohibited from holding any political rallies.

“Suspension of humanitarian operations by NGOs ensures that the government has a monopoly over food distribution through the state-controlled Grain Marketing Board” during the period leading up to the run-off, said Amnesty International in its statement accusing the government of using food for political gain.

John Holmes, the United Nations’ Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, condemned the ban on food deliveries as “a deplorable decision that comes at a critical humanitarian juncture for the people of Zimbabwe.”

The trouble is that neither Holmes, the Director of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, nor Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself had the gumption to speak truth to power and confront Mugabe directly at the Rome conference over his crimes against humanity.  Mugabe was given his day – unchallenged - on the world stage.

Instead, the Director of the Food and Agricultural Organization blamed the wealthier developed countries for not providing more food aid to the developing world and for focusing too much attention on global warming – the environmental crisis, let us not forget, that other UN agencies had trumpeted as the world’s number one priority to resolve.  The Director wants $30 billion a year more in aid to "relaunch agriculture" –a massive wealth transfer program to be administered by UN bureaucrats like the ones who gave us the oil-for-food scandal. 

We do not need lectures from the Director of the Food and Agricultural Organization or any other UN bureaucrats about contributing more money to alleviate world hunger.   The United States already spends billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for this cause.  What we need is real action by the international community against those dictators like Mugabe who are holding their own starving people hostage to their insatiable hunger for power.  At the very least, allowing the thug who no longer is the legitimate ruler of Zimbabwe to speak at the food summit should have been conditioned on Mugabe’s complete lifting of any restrictions on distribution of food to the needy in Zimbabwe and on an invitation to the opposition leader, Tsvangirai, to also address the summit. 

As for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he used his appearance at the world food summit to launch more of his continuing barrage of vicious attacks against Israel.  At a news conference in Rome, for example, he called Israel “a fabricated regime” that was "doomed to go."   He also blamed the current crisis of global hunger and economic problems on the West.

Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 with the promise of using his country’s vast oil revenues to better the life of the Iranian people.  Instead, he has combined the toxins of Islamic extremism, economic statism, political repression and military expansionism to steer Iran into confrontation with Israel and the West while wrecking Iran’s economy in the process.  He has used part of the oil revenues to fund and arm terrorist groups such as   Hezbollah and Hamas.  He has used another portion of the oil revenues to train and arm Iraqi militants who are killing our soldiers.   And he has used much of the rest of the revenues that have not lined the Iranian leaders’ own pockets to accelerate Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. 

As a result, Iran has become today’s biggest threat to world peace and security while its economy has been burdened with higher unemployment and inflation that have forced more than 600,000 children into the streets to help scrounge up whatever money they can to help feed their families.  Iran’s tattered economy is not lost on Iran’s religious leaders, who blame Ahmadinejad for the crisis but keep him in power because they like his extremist anti-Israeli and anti-Western rhetoric.

Ahmadinejad, like Mugabe, engages in conspiracy theories to deflect attention away from the crimes he has committed against his own people.  The UN provides him with convenient forums such as the food summit for this purpose. 

Ahmadinejad is providing "bombs, not food" to the world, said Israeli President Shimon Peres.  "The world is short of food, not of bombs, the world is short of help, not of hatred," Peres went on to observe. 

Immediately after his address,  Ahmadinejad should have been confronted in person by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which just recently released a report expressing alarm over Iran’s lack of cooperation and candor on its nuclear enrichment program as well as over the “possible military dimensions” of the program.   Iranian dissidents should also have been provided the opportunity to speak of the political repression and severe economic hardships that Ahmadinijad’s regime has brought to the Iranian people.

Instead, like Mugabe, Ahmadinijad was given his day – unchallenged - on the world stage.   He used the occasion of a conference that was supposed to be devoted to saving lives to again threaten the very existence of another member state.  Meanwhile, an Iranian journalist who opposes the government and lives in Italy was barred from entering the UN conference at the request of the Iranian regime. 

Once again the United Nations has demonstrated how starved it is of any genuine moral values.

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