Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, has said she will not seek a second four-year term after her current one expires at the end of August, ending weeks of speculation.
The 70-year-old made a trip to China last month for which she was criticised by rights groups as well as some Western governments for not doing enough to act against alleged abuses against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.
“As my term as high commissioner draws to a close, this council’s milestone fiftieth session will be the last which I brief,” she said during her opening address to the Geneva-based body’s summer session, without giving a reason.
Some diplomats said they had expected Bachelet, a former president of Chile who is seen as close to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, to stay on.
Guterres, who chooses the UN rights chief, recently affirmed his support for Bachelet following her six-day trip to China, during which she spoke with President Xi Jinping and other top officials.
Bachelet’s long-awaited trip – the first in 17 years by a UN rights chief – took her to Xinjiang, where China is alleged to have detained more than a million people, as well as carried out forced sterilisation of women and coerced labour. China denies all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang and says its actions in the region were a necessary response to “extremism”.
In her speech, Bachelet said her office was working on an updated assessment of the human rights situation in Xinjiang.
“It will be shared with the government for factual comments before publication,” Bachelet said of her report, without giving a timeline.
The United States has labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang a “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. It argued the conditions Chinese authorities imposed on Bachelet’s visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the rights environment.
In her wide-ranging speech, Bachelet also called on Israel to open a criminal investigation into the killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 and to hold perpetrators to account.
“Under international human rights law, Israel should investigate and ensure appropriate accountability for every case of death and serious injury inflicted by Israeli forces. The prevailing climate of impunity is fueling further violence and violations,” she said.
“The now chronically high levels of killings and injuries of Palestinians, including children by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territory, have continued in the first six months of 2022.”
The post of the high commissioner for human rights typically faces heavy political pressure from countries around the world, and while it can be held for a maximum of two terms, nearly all of Bachelet’s predecessors have avoided staying on for more than one term.