Posts Tagged ‘High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’

Michelle Bachelet, new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gives major interview

October 18, 2018

In August 2018, Michelle Bachelet, twice-elected President of Chile was confirmed as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/]. Minutes after she was approved, UN chief Antonio Guterres told reporters he was “delighted” by the news of her official appointment, describing Ms. Bachelet, a “pioneer”, has been “as formidable a figure in her native Chile, as she has at the United Nations”. Shortly after assuming office in early September, Ms. Bachelet was in New York for the General Assembly’s high-level general debate. She spoke then with UN News on the rights situation around the world, the priorities for her tenure, and how can rights be better protected. It was published on 17 October 2018.

Bearing in mind her own personal experience of being detained and tortured in Chile, the interview started with a question on how she overcame the hardships she suffered under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (file photo) ILO/M. Creuset

Michelle Bachelet: ….there was a period of my life that I really hated what was happening – I had so much rage. But afterwards, I started thinking, “you know what, I do not want this to happen anymore in Chile or in any other country of the world. So, what can I do to contribute, that Chile will be a peaceful, democratic society?” So, I sort of put all my energies on that, and that is why I started working on defence issues to be able to speak to the militaries, because I never thought I was going to be Minister of the Defence or President of the Republic.,,I would say it permitted me to understand that, first of all, lessons learned, and if you really want some objective, and in a possible, constructive way, it can be done.

As the High Commissioner, you have come in a time when human rights are under serious attack globally. What your priorities are going to be?

Michelle Bachelet: …. first of all, of course, my priorities are to do what my mandate tells me to do, to be the voice of the voiceless. But also to engage with governments so they respect human rights, protect people from rights violations, and promote human rights.

….But one of my particular priorities from the Secretary-General is prevention. I am not saying I will succeed on that, maybe not. But I will try to design a system where we can have early warning signs and try to think on early action. …..

Right now, some countries do not want to cooperate with OHCHR or question the worth of the Human Rights Council. How do you plan on bringing everyone together?

Michelle Bachelet: In my opening statement, I spoke about, that consensus could be possible, that we should not lose ourselves in sterile disputes. Of course human rights is a very political thing and you see that here in the General Assembly, in the Security Council, so it is not in the Human Rights Council, by itself.

I mean, countries have their visions, their interests, and sometimes, they are not interested in some issues. But what I have been doing is meeting, not only with the whole council, but with groups of countries in Geneva such as the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the African countries, the Arab countries, the Asia-Pacific countries, the West European and Other countries, the Eastern European countries, speaking but also listening. Because, sometimes, you know what you have to do, but the way you do it can be more successful than others. Sometimes you need to speak out. Sometimes you need to strategize in terms of saying, look, it will work better if we do diplomatic prevention, if we start engaging the government. But today the world is complicated, and it is very polarized in some issues………

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What progress do you think has been done in the past 70 years?

Michelle Bachelet: …..Think of 1948: how many countries allowed women to vote, for example; how many respected of freedom of speech. If you think of the different aspects of the human rights, even in more complete things that usually people do not think of as human rights, but they are human rights: on health, on education, on sanitation, on housing. The world today is better than 70 years ago. But having said that, there are a lot of threats, there are a lot of threats for multilateralism, there is a lot of threat and pushback on human rights. …We see a pushback, we see that in some documents, human rights is not mentioned, and when you ask, they say, “it is mainstream.” And if it is mainstreamed, it is fantastic, because everybody’s doing their job. But if it is invisible, mainstream, that is not a good thing. On the other hand we see human rights defenders and civil society having their space shrink. They have been under attack. Journalists have been killed.

So there is a lot of challenges. The only thing I can say is that the struggle for human rights probably will never end, because it is a process where you advance, but there will be always people who want to push back, and that could be governments or that could be armed groups. The task of the UN is to ensure and promote the whole human rights system. And I will do what I have to do about it, but it cannot be only the task of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has to be the task of the whole UN system….

I would like to ask you about protecting those who protect: human rights defenders are often targets of abuse and violence. How can they be better protected?

Michelle Bachelet: Well, the curious thing is that, as we are celebrating the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are celebrating 20 years of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. And in November 2017, a resolution on the protection of human rights defenders was approved unanimously by the General Assembly.  No country voted against it. So, the issue is: on paper things can look very good, but reality is another thing. I think we have the task of making people accountable for the things they have approved. Second, to monitor implementation of those agreements that everybody has made, and engage governments, and in the cases where things are happening, holding them accountable and responsible for the killings, the torture, the detentions of many human rights defenders.

You have been a very important defender of women’s rights. How is that going to continue, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Michelle Bachelet: The thing is that, people tend to see OHCHR as only concerned with civil and political rights, and that is not it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states the rights for migrants, for children, for women; right to health, to education. It is very comprehensive. Even though I am not intending to replace any other agency, I always speak about gender issues, gender empowerment. This morning I was speaking about women who are women’s human rights defenders, who have been attacked, threatened with rape.

I will be always raising the voice for women, trying to support their capacities, and building partnership with UN Women, as we have spoken with Henrietta Fore, the head of UNICEF to see how we can create synergies. …..

One of the most pressing issues for the entire world is climate change. How are human rights linked to the environment?

Michelle Bachelet: ..There are so many concrete consequences that will be effects in people’s lives and their rights. That is why we also believe that working strongly to combat climate change is a very essential task, including of the High Commissioner. I think also that we need to be more part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and how we support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ..

And climate change is of huge importance, because I have seen places where there is no more water and people who depend agriculture, mainly women, and now have to think how they get their incomes. With climate change, we have seen, and scientists tell us … about worsening natural disasters and extreme weather, forest fires. And all of these will have a lot of consequences for the life of people. It is very important to work very closely on that, too. I completely agree with the Secretary-General when said that this is one of the major, major challenges that we have.

Full interview at: Human Rights

Civil Society sends letter to new High Commissioner for human rights Bachelet

September 8, 2018

A large group of international and regional NGOs have agreed on the following letter to the new High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet; sent on 1 September 2018 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/]. The tone is totally right for the difficult years ahead:

Dear High Commissioner Bachelet,

As local, national, regional, and international civil society organizations from every corner of the world, we offer warm congratulations on your appointment as United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We are committed to a world in which every person enjoys human rights and dignity and in which our communities are fair, just and sustainable. We consider that a strong High Commissioner, working in strategic partnership with independent civil society, can contribute significantly to the realization of this vision.

You take up office at a time when human rights are under attack and when we risk the reversal of many of the achievements of the modern human rights movement. We look to you in these troubled times to be an unwavering voice in the defence of human rights, and of victims, rights-holders and human rights defenders around the world.

On every continent, the rights of individuals, communities and peoples are being violated and abused by governments and non-state actors, often with complete impunity. Civil society, peaceful dissidents, and the media are often brutally silenced. The role of your Office in ensuring robust monitoring of, and reporting on, such situations is essential for curbing violations and deterring further abuse, as well as for ensuring justice and accountability. Technical-assistance and capacity building by the OHCHR is also critical and, to be effective, should be approached holistically alongside a rigorous assessment of the rights challenges in the country, including through key indicators to measure progress and assess the degree of engagement and cooperation by the State.

As High Commissioner, you have a unique role to play in bringing country situations of concern to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, particularly situations that may not be on their agenda or which receive limited attention, often because of political pressure. This role should extend to providing briefings to the Security Council on situations either on its agenda or that, if left unattended, could represent a threat to international peace and security. Monitoring missions and inter-sessional briefings to the HRC can be initiated at the High Commissioner’s prerogative, on the basis of your Office’s universal mandate, bringing attention to neglected country situations and contributing towards the achievement of the Council’s mandate to prevent human rights violations.

We are aware that the position of High Commissioner comes with its own challenges. Many States will insist you avoid “naming and shaming” and push you to engage in “quiet diplomacy” and to respect national sovereignty. Often, those most intolerant of criticism and most forceful in suppressing dissent will speak the loudest in seeking to mute your voice. Survivors, victims and defenders on the front line in countries where their rights are being violated will rely on you as a human rights champion, to have the courage and conviction to call out violators clearly and publicly, even when it’s challenging or unpopular with governments.

Globally, the rights essential to civic space are being systematically undermined. Civil society and human rights defenders face severe daily risks in their struggle to defend human rights on the ground, including imprisonment, asset-freezes, defamatory campaigns, torture, enforced disappearance, and even death. Risks are also present in the UN context, where individuals frequently face intimidation, harassment or reprisals for their engagement with the UN. We urge you to be a staunch defender of the rights of defenders both on the ground and at the UN, to publicly call out violators, and to undertake or push for investigations into attacks and reprisals. We also encourage you to take full advantage of the distinct, often innovative complementary role of civil society to the work of the OHCHR, and ensure the Office works closely with civil society as a strategic partner at the national, regional, and international levels.

Currently, the human rights framework itself is under unparalleled attack. Authoritarian populists are attacking the universality of human rights, disproportionately and unlawfully restricting rights in the purported interests of “national security,” often tacitly or openly encouraging attacks by their followers or vigilantes on rights defenders as well as the vulnerable and poor, while selectively interpreting human rights and seeking to co-opt or subvert human rights mechanisms to suit their political agendas. Safeguarding and strengthening universal human rights norms and mechanisms should be a core responsibility of the High Commissioner.

The current climate highlights the need for a strong public advocacy role for your mandate in the defence of international human rights law and the international human rights system, as well as a strong role internally within the UN to mainstream respect for human rights throughout the work of UN organs and agencies, and within the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Once again, we congratulate you on your new role, and stand ready to support you and your Office in the fulfilment of your vital mandate.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

Change of High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN: optimism warranted

August 22, 2018

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, following approval by the General Assembly, has appointed Michelle Bachelet of Chile the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  [Ms. Bachelet ended her second four-year term as President of Chile in March 2018, having already held the position between 2006 and 2010.  The first woman elected to Chile’s highest office, after her first term, she joined the United Nations as the first Executive Director of the newly established United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). A long-time human rights champion and ground-breaking leader, Ms. Bachelet is a paediatrician who began her Government career as an adviser in the Ministry of Health, rising quickly to become the first woman to lead Chile’s Health Ministry in 2000 and its Defence Ministry in 2002. Ms. Bachelet became involved in Chilean human rights activism in the early 1970s.  She and her parents were political prisoners, and her father, a general in the air force, died in prison.  After their release, Ms. Bachelet and her mother spent several years in exile.  She returned to Chile in 1979.] Her human rights background as well as her political cloud and experience give reason to hope that the Office of the High Commissioner will continue to be at the forefront in spite of the countervailing currents at the moment.  

 

 

 

 

 

Recognition of the fearless outgoing High Commissioner has continued to pour in:

The 2018 Human Rights Tulip has been awarded to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Dutch Foreign minister Stef Blok will present him with the prize on 3 September in The Hague. For more information on the Human Rights Tulip see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/tulip-award. ‘The Netherlands greatly values the way in which he has fulfilled his mandate as High Commissioner,’ Mr Blok said. ‘He addressed human rights violations wherever they occurred. This critical and independent attitude is what is needed in a world where human rights are in jeopardy in many places.

On Monday 20 August the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a wide-ranging interview days before his four-year term ends that U.S. President Donald Trump bears “a heavy responsibility” for how the media is portrayed and that his remarks could have a knock-on effect that could hurt journalists in other countries.” [U.S. newspapers across the country ran editorials last Thursday defending freedom of the press in response to President Donald Trump calling some media organizations enemies of the American people.] “The President should be aware that a heavy responsibility lies on his shoulders when it comes to the way in which the media is being portrayed,” Zeid said.

In his last major interview with UN News on 15 August, the UN human rights chief says that the “real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us.” “Governments are more than capable of defending themselves. It’s not my job to defend them. I have to defend civil society, vulnerable groups, the marginalized, the oppressed. Those are the people that we, in our office, need to represent,” he adds, noting that “oppression is making a comeback”.

When asked about whether his view of the UN and what it can achieve has diminished during his time spent speaking out loudly in defence of the abused and defenceless over the past four years, he says: “It’s very difficult to tolerate abuse of the UN when I keep thinking of the heroic things that people do in the field, whether the humanitarian actors or humanitarian personnel, my human rights people, the people who are monitoring or observing. And I take my hat off to them. I mean, they are the UN that I will cherish and remember.”

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https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-08-20/trump-has-responsibility-towards-media-un-rights-boss-says

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/08/1017052

https://www.government.nl/latest/news/2018/08/14/high-commissioner-for-human-rights-zeid-raad-al-hussein-to-receive-2018-human-rights-tulip

https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sga1824.doc.htm