Chile’s Michelle Bachelet said set to be new UN human rights chief

Diplomats say ex-president of South American nation tapped to replace Jordanian prince Zeid as head of agency slammed by Israel, US as biased

In this September 21, 2016 file photo, then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
In this September 21, 2016 file photo, then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

UNITED NATIONS — Diplomats say UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has chosen Chile’s former president Michelle Bachelet to be the next UN human rights chief, a high-profile and often controversial job.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a group of ambassadors Tuesday of Guterres’ decision, the diplomats said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no official announcement.

The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must be confirmed by the 193-member UN General Assembly.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said he could not confirm Bachelet’s selection but said “the process is nearing its conclusion” and “I expect a name will be sent fairly soon” to the assembly.

Bachelet has been a pioneer for women and women’s rights.

She was the first female president of Chile, from 2006-2010, and was then tapped by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be the first head of UN Women, which was created in July 2010 by the General Assembly to combine four UN bodies dealing with gender equality and the advancement of women under a single umbrella.

In 2013, Bachelet returned to Chile to run for president again and was elected and served a second term from 2014-2018.

In this February 7, 2018, file photo, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein speaks at a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)

If confirmed as human rights chief, which is virtually certain, Bachelet would replace Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, a Jordanian diplomat and member of the country’s royal family whose term ends on August 31.

He defended his outspoken criticism of abuses in dozens of countries from Myanmar and Hungary to the United States and Syria at a farewell news conference last week, denying charges of bias against Israel and insisting that his office doesn’t “bring shame on governments, they shame themselves.”

In his job as UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid said “silence does not earn you any respect — none.”

And he said he will give his successor the same advice his predecessor, Navi Pillay, gave him: “Be fair and don’t discriminate against any country” and “just come out swinging.”

Israel isn’t part of the 47-member council, and has long accused it of unfair treatment.

A picture taken on June 18, 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland, shows a general view during the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (AFP/Alain Grosclaude)

In June, the US announced its decision to leave the council, condemning the “hypocrisy” of its members and its “unrelenting bias” against Israel.

The Geneva-based body was established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide, but its pronouncements and reports have often infuriated the US — in particular, the council’s relentless focus on Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel is the only country that has a dedicated agenda item at council meetings, one defended in particular by the Arab bloc of countries.

Bachelet hasn’t been particularly vocal on Israel during her years as Chile’s leader and in the UN, but her government summoned the Chilean ambassador to the Jewish state during the 2014 war in Gaza, saying the Israeli operation had “breached fundamental norms in international humanitarian law.”

Her cabinet in 2006, which included four Jewish ministers, was dubbed the “most Jewish government in the world.”

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