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U.N. taps Chile’s Bachelet to be human rights chief: diplomats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has chosen former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to be the world body’s new human rights chief, five diplomats said on Wednesday. 

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet shows her ballot during the presidential election in Santiago, Chile December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Vera

Bachelet now needs to be approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly. She would replace Jordan’s outspoken Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who is stepping down at the end of the month after one four-year term in the Geneva-based job.

A group of ambassadors was told of the decision on Tuesday by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, said the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said he expected Guterres to notify General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak of his decision “very soon,” adding: “At this point I don’t have a name to confirm or announce.”

Bachelet, a victim of torture under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, was conservative Chile’s first female leader. 

The pediatrician-turned-politician first served as president of Chile from 2006 to 2010. Her amiable style, welfare policies and steady economic growth in one of the region’s most developed countries made her popular.

Bachelet then led U.N. Women, a body for gender equality and the empowerment of women, between 2010 and 2013, before returning to Chile where she again served as president from 2014 to 2018, pushing for a more radical tax-and-spend agenda, as well as broader abortion rights and gay marriage.

Zeid told reporters in New York earlier this month that he did not seek a second term because he did not believe he would have the support of key world powers, including the United States, China and Russia.

Zeid has been strongly critical of some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies and his attacks on the media.

“Someone said to me ‘just come out swinging’ and that’s what I did,” Zeid said of advice he was given when he started the job in 2014. “We do not bring shame on governments, they shame themselves.”

Zeid said the pressure of the human rights job was intense. After a tough week last year, his wife recommended he watch feel-good reality television show “The Great British Bake Off” to take his mind off human rights abuses.

“This man pulls out a soufflé just before the competition ends and the thing collapses,” he said. “I burst into tears and I couldn’t stop.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Trott and Rosalba O’Brien

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