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UN rights chief says no to second term amid China trip backlash

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By Reuters
After criticism over China, UN rights chief declines second term
After criticism over China, UN rights chief declines second term   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Emma Farge and Wendell Roelf

GENEVA – The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said on Monday that she would not seek a second term for personal reasons, refuting speculation that it was a decision linked to blowback over her trip to China last month.

Bachelet, 70, was criticised by rights groups as well as some Western governments, including the United States, who said the conditions Chinese authorities imposed on the visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the rights environment.

“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 in a surprise announcement at the end of a wide-ranging speech to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

Later, she said the decision was not related to the trip, adding that she intended to return to Chile and spend time with her family.

“Two months ago, before even going to China, I made a decision and I informed my boss, the Secretary-General (Antonio Guterres). So it has no relationship,” she told reporters.

Some diplomats said they had expected Bachelet, a 70-year-old former president of Chile, to stay on after her four-year term expires later in August. There was murmuring in the Geneva Council room when she made the announcement.

In her speech, she said her office was working on an updated assessment of the human rights situation in China’s western region of Xinjiang, where there are widespread allegations that mostly Muslim Uyghur people have been unlawfully detained, mistreated and forced to work.

China denies all accusations of abuse there.

“It will be shared with the government for factual comments before publication,” she said of her report, which was due to be published months ago. Asked about the timing, Bachelet said it would be released before her term ends.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch called her China trip an “unmitigated disaster” and criticised Bachelet for using China’s term “VETCs”, for vocational education and training centres, to describe mass detention facilities in Xinjiang.

She repeated the term in her speech on Monday.

On the rights situation in Russia, she said the arbitrary arrest of a large number of protesters there opposed to the invasion of Ukraine was “worrying”.

Bachelet also raised concern about abortion restrictions, referring to the United States where the Supreme Court is expected to strike down a landmark ruling on nationwide abortion rights.