Diplomats: Chile’s Bachelet to be new UN human rights chief

Diplomats say Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has chosen Chile’s former President Michelle Bachelet to be the next U.N. human rights chief, a high-profile and often controversial job.

U.N. 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 U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights must be confirmed by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.

U.N. 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 U.N. 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.

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 Aug. 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 here last week, insisting that his office doesn’t “bring shame on governments, they shame themselves.”

In his job as U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeida 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.”

Bachelet, a socialist single mother who was jailed during the right-wing dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, became a pediatrician and a politician.

“If selected, Bachelet will be taking on one of the world’s most difficult jobs at a moment when human rights are under widespread attack,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“As a victim herself, she brings a unique perspective to the role on the importance of a vigorous defense of human rights,” Roth said. “People worldwide will depend on her to be a public and forceful champion, especially where offenders are powerful.”