Bachelet cracks whip on Sri Lanka, goes easy on the biggies


Bachelet has a duty to highlight human rights violations committed across the world indiscriminately. She failed.

Michelle Bachelet

United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet is in the news again. Her 3815 word global human rights update at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council has ruffled many a feather across multiple capitals featured in the report, and attracted praise by some.

Bachelet has a duty to highlight human rights violations committed across the world, indiscriminately. That she and her predecessors’ choosing to do otherwise has significantly dented the credibility of the UNHRC, and created a culture of elitist impunity.

Commenting on Sri Lanka, Bachelet noted that “the proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions.” Even Sri Lankans are unsure which direction to take with this, but Bachelet appears to know better. She added that ‘’the surveillance and intimidation of [war] victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers should cease immediately.’’ Sri Lanka wasted no time in firing a response, Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva Dayani Mendis, led the charge calling Bachelet’s comments on the 20th amendment both pre-judgmental and unwarranted.

Shifting focus to the Middle-East Bachelet slammed Iran for intimidating human rights defenders – including women’s rights defenders –lawyers, labour rights activists and protesters, She noted concerns that political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been excluded from Iran’s temporary release of detainees, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.’’ The US sanctions on Iran was arguably the biggest impediment to Iran’s COVID-19 recovery depriving thousands of lives. It is no surprise such inconvenient truths have not been given a place in the Bachelet update.

Talking of prisoners of conscience, Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange was a notable absentee in Bachelet’s remarks. He has been languishing in a UK prison, and despite calls from hundreds of medical practitioners to UK’s Home Secretary, has been denied medical care. Assange is in solitary confinement, so there is no COVID-19 risk, perhaps the overt compassion for Iran’s prisoners. Why Bachelet thinks Assange’s situation is less worthy of amplification than his counterparts in Iran is an answer only she can provide, but she won’t. She can’t.

Commenting on Saudi Arabia, Bachelet noted ‘’concern about the continued arbitrary detention of women human rights defenders who have demanded that Saudi Arabian women be empowered to make their own choices, as equals to men’’ i.e. wear as they please and do as they please. Such progressiveness is imperative. However, the Netherlands in late 2019 joined a long list of European countries to ban the Burqa regardless of whether a woman chooses to do so. Perhaps in the UNHRC-universe, European governments can dictate to women what to wear.

To her credit, Bachelet took on some biggies. She called for action over India’s control of India-Pakistan administered Kashmir and the military violence that has plagued the region for over a year. She also pointed out the sufferings of the black community in US which has manifested in fatal police shootings. There was, however, silence over US’ August 2020 sanctions on the International Criminal Court (ICC/ICJ), including chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda for investigating whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Why?

Bachelet also took on China, noting that her office follows developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Particularly, the impact of the [China orchestrated] National Security Law implemented in July 2020 resulting in the arrest of 24 individuals’’ who opposed Chinese overtures in Hong Kong. Although Bachelet waxed eloquent on Hong Kong’s territorial integrity, there was no hum on US’ January 2020 extra-judicial killing of Iran’s Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qasem Soleimani in the airport of Iraq’s capital Baghdad. Imagine if China was the perpetrator, the UNHRC would have been up in arms.

Bachelet signed off by calling on donors to keep UNHRC funded. She added that her office, like the entire UN Secretariat – has not received all of the approved funds for activities this year. Those suffering cash woes must not lecture biggies on rights, such sanctimony can wait, at least until the cash hits the coffers.

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