Brazil Accuses a U.N. Human Rights Envoy of Bias

The Brazilian government accused a United Nations rights envoy of bias after he reportedly said that famine in Brazil amounted to genocide and that thousands were being 'assassinated' by malnutrition in a class war.

In a strongly worded statement in response to the comments by the envoy, Jean Ziegler, which were reported in a leading daily, Brazil's Foreign Ministry said it 'profoundly regretted' their 'nonconstructive and unbalanced tone.'

Six weeks ago, Brazil became the first country in Latin America to extend an open invitation to the United Nations to probe rights issues.

Mr. Ziegler, who arrived in Brazil last month to research famine among the country's 170 million people, was reported today in the daily Folha de São Paulo as saying: 'There is a class war in Brazil. Some 40,000 people are assassinated every year, statistics show. For the U.N., 15,000 is an indicator of war.

'The statistics indicate that a third of Brazilians suffer from malnutrition,' he was quoted as saying. 'In Brazil, where the soil is fertile and rich in the tropical climate, famine is genocide. Who dies of hunger in Brazil is assassinated.'

Mr. Ziegler's office was not available to confirm the report.

Defending the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's record on human rights, the ministry said Mr. Ziegler's comments 'put at risk the objectivity of his mission.'

The ministry said the standing invitation given to the United Nations to investigate rights in Latin America's largest country 'showed maximum openness on the part of the country toward constructive dialogue with the human rights mechanisms of the U.N.'

Mr. Ziegler, who was designated by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, will report his findings to the organization later this year.

In its statement, the ministry said Brazil had made significant progress on human rights and social issues in recent years, with 97 percent of Brazilian children attending school and all Brazilians benefiting from state health care. The state-run Institute of Applied Economic Studies says 22 million Brazilians live in extreme poverty, earning under $1 a day.

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