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UN rights chief Bachelet says won't seek second term

June 13, 2022

The veteran politician did not give a reason, but she has faced criticism for not speaking out more forcefully against claims of widespread abuses, especially in China.

Michelle Bachelet delivers her statement during the opening day of the 50th session of the Human Rights Council
Bachelet, 70, made the announcement during the opening day of the 50th annual session of the Human Rights Council in GenevaImage: Valentin Flauraud/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the UN-backed Human Rights Council on Monday that she would not seek a second four-year term for the position she has held since 2018. 

The 70-year-old former president of Chile's current term ends on August 31. 

"As my term as High Commissioner draws to a close, this Council's milestone fiftieth session will be the last which I brief," she said at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's 50th annual meeting, which runs until July 8.

Backlash over China trip 

Bachelet did not state a reason for her departure, but her term has been overshadowed by criticism of her response to China's treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region.

Beijing has come under wide criticism for allegedly unlawfully detaining Muslim minorities in concentration camps in Xinjiang and putting them through forced labor. China denies the claims, saying it merely put them in "educational camps."

Last month, Bachelet went to China, where she spoke with President Xi Jinping and other top officials. The visit was the first of its kind in 17 years by a UN rights chief.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet are seen on a giant screen broadcasting news footage of their virtual meeting at a shopping complex in Beijing
Critics said Bachelet did not put enough pressure on China's President Xi Jinping about human rights in Xinjiang Image: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS

Human rights groups say Bachelet failed to speak out about those apparent abuses during her trip. 

On Monday, she said she raised concerns about "patterns of abuse" against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and that her office was working on an updated assessment of the human rights situation there.

UN rights chief visits China

Bachelet raises concerns on global issues 

In her address to the Geneva-based council on Monday, Bachelet expressed concerns about inflation, growing food insecurity and climate change. 

"I urge us to marshal a greater sense of collective responsibility and ambition that puts people, their protection, and their rights first," Bachelet said. 

She also laid out country-specific concerns, including a possibly severe COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea. She called on the international community to "relax sanctions" to allow for assistance to reach the people in the country. 

Bachelet also said arbitrary arrests in Russia of a "large number" of protesters against President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine were "worrying." 

North Korea's fight against COVID-19

A diplomatic approach to human rights

Bachelet is seen as close with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who appointed her in 2018. 

She was the first woman to serve as president of Chile, where she was a torture survivor under Augusto Pinochet

As she has long emphasized the importance of dialogue and diplomacy in forwarding rights, her appointment as the UN rights chief was seen as a bid to break with the repeated outbursts of her outspoken predecessor Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, a Jordanian prince.

However, her approach faced pushback from rights groups, who criticized her restraint. 

fb/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)