Chile's Bachelet is new U.N. human rights chief

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 11 2018 12:57 AM

Chile's former President Michelle Bachelet. Ivan Alvarado, Reuters/File Photo

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday approved the appointment of Chile's former president Michelle Bachelet to be the world body's next human rights chief.

Bachelet, 66, will take over from Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of Jordan, a sharp critic of U.S. President Donald Trump's policies, who held the post of U.N. high commissioner for human rights since September 2014.

The decision was taken by consensus by the 193-nation assembly after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put forward Bachelet to be the next U.N. high commissioner for human rights on Wednesday.

Applause rang out after assembly president Miroslav Lajcak gaveled the decision. Bachelet will take up her new position on September 1.

A two-time president who ranks among the world's most high-profile women in politics, Bachelet endured torture during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet but went on to serve in government after democracy was restored in 1990.

A trained pediatrician and socialist politician, she was also the first director of U.N. Women, the U.N. agency promoting gender equality worldwide.

Bachelet will 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 including the United States, Russia and China.

In a statement, Zeid praised Bachelet, saying "she has all the attributes – courage, perseverance, passion, and a deep commitment to human rights – to make her a successful high commissioner."

Bachelet will be the seventh high commissioner since the office was created in 1993. 

Born in Santiago, Bachelet was studying medicine when she was detained for several weeks by Pinochet's political police. After her release in 1975, she went into exile with her mother to Australia before moving to East Germany. 

Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979, but was prevented from working as a doctor for political reasons. She continued studying, specializing in pediatrics and public health.

After democracy was restored to Chile in 1990, she worked for the health ministry and in 2000 was appointed health minister, followed by defense minister four years later.

As president, Bachelet offered a dramatic break from Chile's highly conservative political class. She reformed the pension system and improved health and social services, focusing on Chile's working poor.