United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has chosen Michelle Bachelet for the key post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and submitted her name for approval by the General Assembly. Ms. Bachelet, a socialist, was most recently president of Chile between 2014 and 2018, having served previously as president from 2006 to 2010. In between, she served as the first Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women). Ms. Bachelet will succeed Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who will step down at the end of August after a highly controversial term in office. As Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said, “During his tenure, the HRC [Human Rights Council] became a theater of the absurd, with hypocrisy and double standards rampant among its proceedings and reports.”
Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, advised Ms. Bachelet to "avoid the failures of the past." The Trump administration announced last June its withdrawal from the dysfunctional Human Rights Council.
As a torture survivor herself, Ms. Bachelet will bring a unique perspective to her new position. She and her family were tortured by the dictatorial Pinochet regime. Her father lost his life after enduring months of torture for opposing Pinochet's overthrow of the duly elected President Salvador Allende. “Violence ravaged my life,” she said. “I was a victim of hatred, and I have dedicated my life to reversing that hatred.”
Ms. Bachelet also brings to her new position a demonstrated commitment to expanding the rights of women. As Executive Director of UN Women, she said, for example, “Violence against women in all its forms is a human rights violation. What’s important is that women have the right to make their own decisions, and that these decisions are not controlled by anyone else.” She has served as a role model in her own career in public service. “As a doctor, when I was minister of health and would go somewhere,” she said, “little girls would come up to me and say, 'I want to be like you one day, I want to be a doctor.' Now, they tell me, 'I want to be president just like you.' All of us can dream as big as we want.”
Nevertheless, while Ms. Bachelet deserves a chance to prove her willingness and ability to restore a measure of credibility to the UN’s fundamentally flawed human rights apparatus, there are some worrisome red flags raised by some of her past statements and actions. While still serving as president of Chile, Ms. Bachelet praised the work of the Human Rights Council despite its abject failure to address real human rights abuses by some of the world’s worst dictatorships and its anti-Israel obsession. “I raise my voice in support of the efficacy of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council,” she said, while calling for an increase in the UN’s regular budget allocation to the UN’s so-called human rights agenda.
A socialist herself, Ms. Bachelet has praised the socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela. When she visited Cuba earlier this year, she met with the dictator Gen. Raúl Castro, without seeing any of Cuba’s dissidents. On the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death, she called him “a leader for dignity and social justice in Cuba and Latin America.” Similarly, she eulogized the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez for “his most profound love for his people and the challenges of our region to eradicate poverty and generate a better life for everyone and his profound love for Latin America.”
Ms. Bachelet’s commitment to socialism was noted in a 2006 U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks: “Eight months into her term as Chile's President, the core socialist principles that guide Michelle Bachelet are very much in evidence. In the international arena, Bachelet's initial inclination is to adopt positions of brotherly solidarity, including those with an ‘anti-imperialist’ tint… Ideologically, Bachelet is sympathetic to much of the rhetoric and some of the politics found on the left.”
While serving as UN Women Executive Director, Ms. Bachelet addressed an annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, citing the Palestinian issue as a top priority among “a number of important reports before us.” This UN body passed only one country-specific resolution, targeting Israel. The resolution accused Israel of “systematic violation” of the human rights of Palestinian women. Iran, which was then a member of the 45-country UN Commission on the Status of Women, escaped any condemnation despite its abysmal record on women’s rights.
Chile is home to one of the world's largest Palestinian populations outside the Middle East. Its Jewish population, while relatively sizable, is no more than one-tenth the size of Chile’s Palestinian population. Back in 2014, during Ms. Bachelet’s second term as Chile’s president, her government demonstrated its pro-Palestinian tilt by halting free trade negotiations with Israel and recalling Chile's ambassador in Tel Aviv. These actions were taken to protest Israeli actions in Gaza designed to defend its citizens against Palestinian terrorist attacks. ADL wrote a complaint letter to then-President Bachelet, stating: “Chile’s public statements and actions have put the onus for this conflict solely on Israel, despite the indisputable evidence that Hamas is indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians with a relentless barrage of rockets and missiles, has built scores of tunnels with the intention of conducting terrorist attacks and kidnappings of Israeli civilians and soldiers, and the well-documented cruel indifference of Hamas to the lives and safety of its own people in Gaza through the situating of rockets, weapons depots and terrorist operations inside mosques, schools, hospital and other medical clinics. Inexplicably, nowhere in Chile’s statements is there a recognition of Israel’s responsibility to protect its citizens - the majority of which live under the threat of Hamas rocket and tunnel attack.”
On the issue of immigration, Ms. Bachelet supported during her presidency some reforms in Chile’s immigration laws. However, she lashed out at those who, she claimed, “wrongly associate immigration with a kind of unfair competition in the field of labor, while others go so far as to link it with crime.”
Given the warning signs in Ms. Bachelet’s record, those who truly care about human rights as well as national sovereignty will need to keep a watchful eye on her performance as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We should know soon whether she will truly avoid the many failures of the outgoing commissioner, Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, and try to steer the UN’s badly damaged human rights office in a more constructive direction.