By Staff Writer
The 193 Member States of the United Nations met on Friday, August 10, 2018 at the General Assembly to endorse the appointment of Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile from 2006 to 2010, and from 2014 to 2018, to the leadership of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bachelet was nominated by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General to succeed Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the head of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN.
The daughter of a general opposed to Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état, who died in 1974 after months in prison and torture, Michelle Bachelet well knows the importance of human rights.
Her father, Alberto Bachelet, an air force officer, had remained loyal to the former president, Salvador Allende, during the 1973 military coup and refused to take part in overthrowing the elected socialist leader. That decision led to him being arrested and tortured; the aftereffect of the torture cost him his life. In 1975, then a medical student, she herself had dealt with the dictatorship’s political police. She was detained and tortured with her mother, archaeologist Angela Jeria, in the notorious Villa Grimaldi torture center, where they were tortured during interrogations, before being exiled.
Subsequently, her commitment to democracy and individual freedoms was at the heart of her political action, which led her first to ministerial duties. After the end of the dictatorship in Chile in 1990, Bachelet began a career in the Ministry of Health. Her political rise began from then on. In 2000, she was named the country’s health minister, in 2002 defense minister, and in 2006 she won the presidential election. The socialist, a pediatrician by training, was the first female president of Chile.
During her first presidency, she implemented improvements to the state health system, initiated welfare programs for poor families, legalized divorce and started a campaign to fight illiteracy. Chile’s economy flourished under her leadership. The Human Rights Museum in Santiago is described as her very personal project: A place of documentation and remembrance of the crimes of the Pinochet dictatorship. Still very popular at the end of her first term, she could not run, as the Chilean Constitution prohibits a second consecutive term in office, but she was re-elected four years later.
She was the first woman to govern the Andean country, an important figure in a part of the world reputed to be very masculine. Between her two mandates, she was also entrusted by Ban Ki-moon with managing UN Women, the UN agency promoting gender equality, at its creation.
Today, she becomes the seventh person to take on the role as head of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN established in 1993.
Bachelet takes on a four-year term at a difficult time for the UN human rights wing, with major humanitarian crises developing across the world, including ongoing conflict in the Middle East and stringent immigration policies arising in Europe and the United States.
At the age of 66, Michelle Bachelet is one of the most influential women politicians in the world.
In 2017, Antonio Guterres appointed her to be part of a high-level advisory council to advise him on mediation initiatives. The UN secretary-general called her a “champion of long-term women’s rights.”