(CNSNews.com) – U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday that her decision not to run for a second term had nothing to do with the scathing criticism she is facing over her handling of the crisis in Xinjiang.
Meanwhile a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, asked if he will take into account the China-related criticism when choosing Bachelet’s successor, replied, “I guess the short answer is no.”
Bachelet told reporters in Geneva she had informed Guterres well before her trip to China last month that she would step down when her term ends on August 31, citing “personal reasons.”
Criticism leveled at her over the visit had “no relationship” to her decision not to seek a second term, Bachelet said. As a former president of Chile she has received much criticism in her life, but while she always listens, she said, she had never made decisions based on it.
Bachelet has come under fire from Uyghur and human rights advocacy groups, Western governments and others dismayed both by her stance and statements in China and by her office’s failure to release a report on the human rights situation in Xinjiang that allegedly was completed months ago.
The visit had taken several years to arrange, and critics felt she had wasted a vital opportunity to confront Beijing head-on over mass-scale atrocities in Xinjiang that the U.S. government and others say amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.
China has long denied accusations of abuses against Uyghurs and other minority Muslims in the far western region, and officials claimed afterwards that Bachelet’s trip had exposed and shattered the “lies and rumors related to Xinjiang.”
Last week, scores of human rights groups and activists renewed calls for her resignation, accusing her of having “whitewashed the Chinese government’s human rights atrocities.”
Bachelet announced her decision to stand down while delivering a report on Monday to the Human Rights Council, on the opening day of a new regular session.
Guterres then issued a statement warmly praising Bachelet “for her relentless service.”
“In all she has done, Michelle Bachelet lives and breathes human rights,” he said. “She has moved the needle in an extremely challenging political context – and she has made a profound difference for people around the globe.”
At a daily briefing in New York, Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric was asked whether the secretary-general would take into account the criticism directed at Bachelet over China, when he considers candidates to succeed her.
“I guess the short answer is no,” he replied. “The secretary-general, first of all, I think, was very clear in his support from Ms. Bachelet, including her recent trip to China. He will seek out the best possible candidate to be a strong voice in defense of human rights around the world.”
Dujarric was also asked if Guterres would press Bachelet to release the long-delayed Xinjiang report before leaving office.
“That is a sovereign decision that the human rights commissioner will make,” he said. “The secretary-general is not in the business of telling her what to do.”
Following growing calls for the report’s release, by U.S. administration officials and lawmakers among others, a Bachelet spokesperson said in late April that a draft would first have to go to Beijing for its input before it could be published.
That was confirmed on Monday by Bachelet, who in her speech to the HRC said the report was being “updated” and “will be shared with the [Chinese] government for factual comments before publication.”
In her later comments to reporters, Bachelet replied “yes” when asked if she expected the report to be issued before she steps down.
In line with U.N. procedures, the world body’s top human rights official is appointed by the secretary-general for a four-year term, in a decision then endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly.
Bachelet, a former political prisoner and a socialist, served as Chile’s president from 2006-2010 and again from 2014-2018.
When Guterres appointed her in 2018 to serve as the U.N.’s top human rights official, the Trump administration was not enthusiastic. Criticism centered on an evident reluctance to challenge leftist autocrats in Latin America.
In the end, the General Assembly endorsed Guterres’ choice without debate or recorded vote.
After Bachelet’s inaugural address to the HRC in Geneva, then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley took her for task for criticizing Israel and the United States “while ignoring some of the worst human rights violators in the world.”
“High Commissioner Bachelet would do better to encourage the Human Rights Council to focus on countries with reprehensible human rights records, several of whom sit on the council itself,” said Haley, who three months earlier had led the U.S. withdrawal from the HRC.
Bachelet did show herself to be willing to confront the Maduro regime’s abuses. After visiting Venezuela in March 2019 she released a report highlighting “arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture” of government critics, sexual violence in detention, and a “shockingly high” number of extrajudicial killings by security forces.
Uyghur Advocates: UN Human Rights Chief Should Resign for Whitewashing Chinese Atrocities (May 31, 2022)
State Dep’t: ‘A Mistake’ for UN Rights Chief to Agree to Restrictions on Xinjiang Visit (May 25, 2022)
US Ambassador Says UN Rights Chief Must Release Xinjiang Report; China Slams ‘Malicious Pressure’ (Apr. 21, 2022)
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