GENEVA – The UN Human Rights Office is once again headed by a woman, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, who takes over the post amid high expectations given her past experience as Chile’s president and, especially, for having herself been a direct victim of repression.
“I know that the victims, (and) human rights defenders are expecting my support and I will do my best to be there when they need it,” Bachelet promised in her first remarks to reporters upon taking over her new duties.
Bachelet becomes the international body’s human rights commissioner at a critical time for human rights, not only due to the many crises and conflicts around the world but also because of many governments’ tendencies to ignore UN statements on the matter.
The new high commissioner, who served as Chile’s president for two non-consecutive terms, began her day with assorted meetings at the OHCHR headquarters with an eye toward steeping herself in the operations and situations that will require her urgent attention over her four-year term.
The first issue on the agenda was one linked to freedom of the press: the seven-year prison sentences handed down in Myanmar to two Reuters reporters accused of illegally possessing official documents in their investigation of a massacre of the Buddhist country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.
On the issue, Bachelet said that she did not doubt that the information the journalists reported was in the “public interest” and the trial was a “farce,” and she went on to call on Myanmar authorities to release them.
Bachelet and her team are already working on her first speech before the UN Human Rights Council (CDH), which within a week will begin its third and last session for the year.
Each remark that Bachelet makes will be examined and analyzed by observers to try and divine the intensity with which she will approach her new role.
Although the CDH is an intergovernmental organization made up of 47 states, a good number of its decisions must be implemented by the OHCHR.
Bachelet’s arrival in the post also coincides with a key date on the international calendar: the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10.