Michelle Bachelet to be named High Commissioner for Human Rights

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The UN General Assembly will convene Friday to consider the Secretary General’s nomination of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as the next High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She will replace Jordan’s Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the conclusion of just one term at the end of August.

The Secretary General’s deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq finally confirmed media reports of the pick for the UN’s top human rights job.

“The SG after consultations with the chairs of the regional groups of member states has informed the GA of his intention to appoint Michelle Bachelet of Chile as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

Bachelet became Chile’s first woman President from 2006 to 2010 where heads of state are barred from serving consecutive terms. She then left the country for New York to lead the newly formed UN Agency for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality but returned to her homeland to successfully run for a second term as President from 2014 until March this year.

Speaking as the first Executive Director of UNWOMEN in 2013, she said violence against women is pervasive and knows no borders, it does not discriminate according to nationality, ethnicity, social class, culture or religion.

“And this is why men, women and young people have raised their voices in every region to say, one thing – enough is enough, people demand an immediate end to impunity, they insist on the protection of the rights of women and girls to live in dignity, free of violence and discrimination. And let me say this, there can be no peace, no progress, no equality without women’s full and equal rights and participation.”

The High Commissioner is unique among under Secretaries General at the UN in that the nomination by the Secretary General must be confirmed by the General Assembly with due regard to geographical rotation for a fixed term of four years with a possibility of one renewal for another fixed term of four years.

The incumbent, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein hails from Jordan and his predecessor Navi Pillay is South African. We recently asked the current High Commissioner what advise he would give his successor.

“It’s the same advise that Navi Pillay gave to me, I got two pieces of advise:  – One be fair, in other words don’t privilege and discriminate against any country. Be fair, if you’re going to criticize Bahrain, you have to criticize China. If you’re going to criticize Mali, you should criticize the United States. In other words, no-one should be somehow above a comment when it comes to human rights. The second point: I thought about coming out slowly and doing this reset and spending six months adjusting. When Navi Pillay left her relationship with a number of countries was strained and someone said to me – no, just come out swinging and that’s what I did.”

Advocacy and Rights Group Amnesty International warned that Bachelet’s nomination comes at a tumultuous time for the human rights community with freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under sustained threat around the world.