Bachelet voices concerns over Myanmar and US in first key speech

Bachelet, a former Chilean president, made her maiden speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday Keystone

In her widely anticipated maiden speech to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet, the new UN human rights chief, focused on the problematic rights records of world powers as well as the crisis in Yemen and Myanmar. 

Keystone SDA/sb

In her first speech to the UN rights council since assuming office on September 1, Bachelet called on Monday for a new institution to collect evidence with a view to future prosecution of crimes against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, including murder and torture. 

She also urged China to allow monitors into the country following “deeply disturbing” allegations of large “re-education camps” in which Uighurs are arbitrarily detained in the western Xinjiang province. 

The new UN human rights chief, who replaces Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, said she was also dispatching teams to Austria and Italy to investigate the protection of migrants. 

The former first female president of Chile, who was 23 years old when she was tortured and fled her country's dictatorship into exile, also voiced concern that 500 migrant children in the United States taken away from their parents have not yet been returned. 

She also urged the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen to show greater transparency in their rules of engagement and hold to account perpetrators of deadly air strikes on civilians, including that which hit a bus of children in the northern province of Saada last month. 

“It is crucial that there be continued international and independent investigations into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes,” she declared. 

All eyes 

Observers were eagerly watching for clues to how she would address right abuses worldwide and whether she would take a softer approach than her predecessor, who was known for his forthrightness. Zeid had urged Bachelet not to waver from publicly criticising abuses, commenting that “we are not in the silence business here”. 

The Swiss ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Valentin Zellweger, believes Bachelet was an excellent choice for the job. 

“She has the stature of the former head of state and knows the UN well in New York. She also embodies the message of human rights in her flesh,” he told Keystone SDA last week. "But Zeid's succession will not be easy as he had built an extremely credible reputation.”

Bachelet opens the three-week 39th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which runs to September 28, as officials still come to terms with the US decision to withdraw from the UN body three months ago, accusing it of hypocrisy and anti-Israel bias.

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