UN human rights chief Bachelet won't seek second term

UN human rights chief Bachelet won't seek second term
The chief of the United Nations Human Rights Council Michelle Bachelet announced on Monday she will not seek a second term as head of the human rights body.
4 min read
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet announced at the United Nations Human Rights Council's session on Monday that she will not seek a second term [Getty]

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday she will not seek a second term, ending months of speculation, insisting she wanted to spend more time with her family in Chile.

The surprise announcement came as the 70-year-old former Chilean president opened the United Nations Human Rights Council's 50th session.

"As my term as High Commissioner draws to a close, this Council's milestone 50th session will be the last which I brief," Bachelet told the diplomats gathered in Geneva.

Speculation has been rife for months, with diplomats in Geneva telling AFP in recent weeks that she had yet to provide clues to her plans.

But Bachelet told reporters she had realised months ago that it was time to leave, and had informed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of her decision when she was in New York back in April.

"This is not something new," she said, adding that Guterres had "told me he would love me to continue," but that she had declined "for personal reasons".

"I'm not a young woman anymore, and after a long and rich career, I want to go back to my country, to my family."

The post of High Commissioner for Human Rights typically faces heavy political pressure from countries around the world, and while it can be held for a maximum of two terms, nearly all of Bachelet's predecessors have avoided staying on for more than one term.

But there had been speculation that Bachelet, who has largely avoided harsh public criticism of countries, might be eying more time.

When Guterres appointed her in 2018, it was clear she was meant to mark a break with the repeated declarations of outrage by her very outspoken predecessor Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of Jordan.

Bachelet, who went from torture victim under Augusto Pinochet to become the first woman to serve as president of Chile, has instead emphasised the importance of dialogue and discrete diplomacy in forwarding rights in various countries.

"Continue to seek dialogue" she told the council on Monday as she presented an overview of human rights concerns around the world.

"Be willing to hear the other, to understand respective points of view and to actively work towards identifying common ground."

This approach has not sat well with some and she has faced significant pushback over her restraint, especially when it comes to China.

She has faced mounting criticism from countries and NGOs for not speaking out more forcefully against allegations of widespread rights abuses in the country, including during her long-awaited trip there last month - the first in 17 years by a UN rights chief.

Live Story


The criticism "has no relationship" with the decision not to take on a second term, she told journalists.

"Having been president twice, I have received a lot of criticism in my life," she pointed out. "That's not what makes me take certain positions."

Bachelet meanwhile vowed that a long-awaited report on the rights situation in the Xinjiang region, where China is alleged to have detained over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, will be published before she steps down on August 31.

She told the council that the report was currently "being updated", and that it would "be shared with the government for factual comments before publication."

Live Story

Countries and NGOs have become increasingly impatient to see that report, which they say has been ready for months.

"It is important that she not let that process run out the clock on her term and hand the report to her successor," Human Rights Watch chief Ken Roth told AFP on Monday.

He warned that Bachelet's focus on seeking dialogue with Chinese President Xi Jinping "lacks the pressure that alone might persuade him to ease his repression".

He urged Guterres to pick "a successor who is comfortable using the office's most important tool to improve human rights practices -- the willingness to speak out against even the most powerful human rights abusers."