Michel Bachelet set to next UN rights chief

Michel Bachelet set to next UN rights chief

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in Santiago on August 2, 2018. AFP

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to appoint Chile's former president Michelle Bachelet as the UN's new human rights chief, diplomats said on Wednesday.

Bachelet, 66, would replace Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of Jordan, a sharp critic of US President Donald Trump who held the post of UN high commissioner for human rights since September 2014.

A two-time president of Chile who ranks among her country's most popular politicians, Bachelet was detained and tortured by late dictator Augusto Pinochet's political police in 1975.

The paediatrician and socialist politician who was Chile's first woman to hold the presidency also served as the first director of UN Women, the UN agency promoting gender equality in 2010.

Diplomats said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a meeting of ambassadors this week that Bachelet had agreed to take on the role of the UN's top rights watchdog.

The diplomats cautioned, however, that her appointment must be endorsed by the General Assembly.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq declined to confirm the decision but said a name was being sent to the General Assembly.

"The process is nearing its conclusion," said Haq.

Bachelet would step into a position that has drawn much controversy under Zeid, who decided not to seek a second term after losing support from powerful countries.

Aside from the United States, Zeid also clashed with Russia and China during his term, prompting him to bow out after four years as he admitted that "in the current geo-political context," to stay "might involve bending a knee in supplication."

Rights activists have been concerned that Guterres would seek to appoint a less vocal human rights chief at a time when the Trump administration has drawn outrage over its policies concerning migrants.

"Silence does not earn you any respect," Zeid told journalists last week.

He added that he would offer as advice to his successor to "be fair and don't discriminate against any country" and "just come out swinging."

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