Former Chilean president Bachelet appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

By Yoshita Singh
(Eds: Updating with fresh inputs and UN chief's quotes)
    United Nations, Aug 10 (PTI) Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was appointed today by the UN General Assembly as the world body's next top human rights official to replace Jordanian diplomat Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein.
    UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had this week nominated Bachelet to be the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her name was forwarded for consideration by the 193-member UN General Assembly, which today approved her appointment.
    Al Hussein warmly welcomed the UN General Assembly’s appointment of Bachelet to succeed him when his mandate comes to an end on 31 August 2018.
    "I am truly delighted by the appointment of Michelle Bachelet as the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights," Zeid said.
     "She has all the attributes – courage, perseverance, passion, and a deep commitment to human rights – to make her a successful High Commissioner. The UN Human Rights Office looks forward to welcoming her and working under her leadership for the promotion and protection of all human rights, for everyone, everywhere."
    Bachelet most recently served as President of Chile (from 2014 to 2018, and 2006 to 2010). She was the first Executive Director of UN-Women between 2010 and 2013. She has also served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Health in Chile. The UN General Assembly today approved the UN Secretary-General’s appointment of Bachelet for a four-year term as High Commissioner.
    Guterres welcomed Bachelet’s confirmation by the General Assembly, saying she takes on a role for which she is "perfectly suited" as she knows the "responsibilities of both national and global leadership."
    The UN chief said Bachelet takes office at a time of grave consequence for human rights.
    "Hatred and inequality are on the rise. Respect for international humanitarian and human rights law is on the decline. Space for civil society is shrinking. Press freedoms are under pressure," he told reporters here following the General Assembly’s confirmation of Bachelet’s appointment.
    Guterres added that to navigate these currents, there is need for a strong advocate for all human rights - civil, political, economic, social and cultural.
    "We need a person who can ensure the integrity of the indispensable human rights mechanisms of the United Nations," he said, adding that Bachelet brings unique experience to the United Nations and is strongly committed to keeping human rights at the forefront of the work of the United Nations.     
    Bachelet will be the seventh High Commissioner since the Office was created in 1993. Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein has been in office since 1 September 2014. His predecessors are: José Ayala-Lasso (1994-97); Mary Robinson (1997-2002); Sergio Vieira de Mello (2002-03); Louise Arbour (2004-08); and Navi Pillay (2008-14).
    Following consultations with the Chairs of the regional groups of Member States, Guterres had informed the General Assembly of his intention to appoint Bachelet as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bachelet, 66 will succeed al-Hussein, who had been one of the most outspoken critics of abuses by governments in many countries. Her name now goes forward for consideration and approval by the 193-member UN General Assembly.
    The UN Human Rights High Commissioner is the principal official who speaks out for human rights across the whole UN system, strengthening human rights mechanisms; enhancing equality; fighting discrimination in all its forms; strengthening accountability and the rule of law; widening the democratic space and protecting the most vulnerable from all forms of human rights abuse.
    Al-Hussein will step down from his role at the end of this month. He served a single term, beginning in 2014. During his tenure, Al-hussein had been outspoken in his criticism of abuses in dozens of countries from Myanmar and Hungary to the United States. At a farewell news conference at UN headquarters this month, he had said he does not regret speaking out against human rights abuses, saying "silence does not earn you any respect — none."
    Headquartered in Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is mandated to promote and protect the universal exercise and full realization of human rights, across the world, as established in the UN Charter.
    Bachelet’s nomination has received cautious reactions from diplomats and human rights organizations. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the United States had withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council in part because of the Council’s consistent failure to address extreme human rights abuses in the Western Hemisphere, in Venezuela and Cuba in particular.
    Haley added that the Human Rights Commissioner can have a strong voice on these critical issues, even when the Human Rights Council fails to live up to its name. It is incumbent on the Secretary-General’s choice, Bachelet, to avoid the failures of the past. PTI YAS NSA