The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the backlash against democracy, Khashoggi and war in Syria and Yemen.
Former Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, served her country on two different occasions; she has now done the same for the United Nations. Previously the executive director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Bachelet was nominated to replace Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein at the end of his term, as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this year.
Now a few months into the position, Bachelet remains optimistic and says that there needs to be a “pushback on the pushback” on human rights that the world has seemingly witnessed lately. Citing women’s rights and progress on LGBT matters as two issues that must be nurtured, Bachelet suggests that perhaps the world has taken democratic progress for granted.
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It appears Bachelet has her work cut out for her as, in the words of her predecessor, al-Hussein, “Oppression is fashionable again, the security state is back and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every single region of the world.”
Talk to Al Jazeera spoke to Michelle Bachelet about the current state of human rights across the world and her vision for the future in her new role.
Asked about her family’s incarceration and her father’s death under Pinochet’s rule after having grown up in a democratic Chile, Bachelet says that was a learning experience that benefited her future political and humanitarian aspirations.
, on the ground, working and trying to do their best. We need to keep doing our best to stop that war from continuing.”]
“Living and having been raised in a democracy… I took that for granted. I thought that was normal,” she says. “Then when we had the experience of dictatorship, we learned that we needed to defend democracy to ensure that it could continue.
“I had some meetings with some NGOs [recently] as high commissioner, and someone had the floor and said to me ‘I am so happy you were in jail and you were tortured’… I knew what he meant. [It is because] I know what they are talking about.”
On the ongoing war in Syria and whether the UN and the international community have failed the millions of migrants and those still internally displaced, Bachelet says the situation has been a lot more complicated than simply being labelled a failure.
by only the Turkish and Saudi governments is something that people would not rely on. We need a thorough, deep and transparent investigation that gives us the whole picture and who should be accountable.”]
“I’m not sure that you can say that UN has failed [in Syria]. I think that everyone has failed. It is the international community as a whole. Member states that are engaged with Syria in different parts… I hope that soon, that conflict ends because there have been so many casualties… we need to work harder. I know the people who have been there, on the ground, working and trying to do their best. We need to keep doing our best to stop that war from continuing.”
Bachelet also says she believes war crimes have been committed in the war in Yemen, but that more UN personnel should be allowed to enter and gather information instead of relying on second-hand information.
“We have insisted [to all parties involved] to avoid any act that could mean civilian and child casualties. We have been calling all the parties to lift restrictions, in terms of letting humanitarian forces go there with food and other supplies,” says Bachelet.
On the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as allegedly perpetrated by the country leading the coalition responsible for the war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bachelet neither confirms nor denies allegations, but says there needs to be a concrete investigation.
“What I think is needed is an investigation with external investigators,” says Bachelet. “An investigation by only the Turkish and Saudi governments is something that people would not rely on [the findings]. We need a thorough, deep and transparent investigation that gives us the whole picture and who should be accountable.”