U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet says she will step down as high commissioner when her term ends in late August. She disclosed this information, without a detailed explanation, at the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 50th session.
Following her review of global human rights developments to the council, Bachelet told journalists in Geneva that she was retiring for personal reasons. She said her decision has nothing to do with criticisms over a recent trip to China.
Human rights activists have criticized her for failing to condemn Beijing’s forced incarceration of nearly two million Uyghurs in Xinjiang during her visit.
Bachelet told the media that she had informed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres two months before she went to China that she would not be seeking a second term.
“He told me that he would love me to continue but I explained to him that because of personal reasons, I need to…I am not a young woman anymore and after a long and rich career, I want to go back to my country, to my family … After being so many years a minister, president, high commissioner, I think it is time. It is time to go back,” she said.
Previously, in her speech to the council, Bachelet addressed the barrage of criticism leveled at her. Bachelet said she had discussed specific human rights concerns with senior officials in China. These included government policies for countering terrorism, the protection of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and legal protection for women.
“I also raised concerns regarding the human rights situation of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, including broad arbitrary detention and patterns of abuse, both in the VETC [Vocational Education and Training Centers] system and in other detention facilities. My office’s assessment of the human rights situation in Xinjiang is being updated. It will be shared with the government for factual comments before publication,” she said.
One critic was Rushan Abbas, founder and executive director of the Washington-based organization Campaign for Uyghurs. Abbas recently said Bachelet made a “mockery” of the U.N. human rights office by adopting Beijing’s narrative. He called for her to resign, saying in a tweet she neglects her mandate and the U.N.’s founding principles.
Human rights activists have repeatedly demanded that Bachelet release her long-awaited report on China’s human rights abuses. The high commissioner said the report would be issued before she left office. Beijing denies the accusations of rights abuses.
In her lengthy presentation to the council, the high commissioner reported widespread violations were destroying and impoverishing the lives of countless millions of people in all regions of the world.
She focused on the war in Ukraine, which she said continued to destroy the lives of many, causing havoc and destruction. She noted the horrors inflicted on the civilian population would leave an indelible mark for generations to come.
She condemned Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, for arbitrarily arresting large numbers of antiwar protesters. She called the increase in censorship and restrictions on independent Russian media regrettable.
Asim Kashgarian contributed to this report.