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New Human Rights Chief Vows to be Voice of Defenseless

The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet vows to be the voice of the voiceless and to uphold the needs and rights of the many victims of gross violations and abuse.  In her first oral statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council since assuming her post, Bachelet presented a dismal view of the state of human rights around the world.  

In her speech at the opening of the 39th Council session in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet paid homage to the courage and achievements of her predecessor, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein and said she would build upon his good works to advance the cause of human rights.

She said her own life experience as a political detainee and the daughter of political detainees, as a refugee and a physician who has nurtured child victims of torture would define her work as a champion for human rights in the coming years.

Bachelet listed the names of dozens of countries in all regions of the world where millions of people are being subjected to violations such as torture, arbitrary arrest, extra-judicial killings, political persecution and restrictions to their freedom of speech and assembly.

She called attention to the shocking findings of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission to Myanmar, which found strong evidence indicating genocide of the Rohingya people.  She urged the Council to refer the matter to the General Assembly to establish a mechanism for preserving and analyzing the most serious international crimes.

She expressed deep concerns about the impending crisis for Syrian civilians in Idlib as military operations there intensify.

“The suffering of the people of Syria has been interminable and terrible,” she said. “I urge all nations to take all necessary actions to urgently ensure their protection as well as justice for the massive human rights violations they have endured.  In Egypt, I am shocked by Saturday’s death sentence for 75 people following another mass trial, which failed to comply with international standards regarding due process guarantees.”

As a two-time president of Chile, Bachelet flagged the worrisome deterioration of human rights in Venezuela and Nicaragua, noting the vast numbers of people fleeing because of insecurity and persecution.

Turning to Africa, the High Commissioner welcomed the Peace agreement signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which offered hope for an end to the decades-long stalemate between the two countries.  

In a similar vein, she said she hoped the agreement signed by the warring parties in South Sudan would be maintained and would create a peaceful and sustainable solution to the conflict.

Bachelet ended her speech by acknowledging this was a time of many setbacks for human rights, but also a time of great opportunity.

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