New UN Human Rights chief raises concerns

The 39th session of the Human Rights Council commenced in Geneva  today (10 September). In the opening statement by the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet referring to Sri Lanka said that:

In Sri Lanka, although the authorities have moved too slowly towards meaningful implementation of the transitional justice agenda, the Office of Missing Persons has now begun consultations and institutional capacity-building to fulfil its mandate. We look to that Office to work quickly, to begin to provide answers to the families of the disappeared.

Legislation establishing an Office for Reparations is also underway. More progress in advancing accountability and truth-seeking could have great weight in the long-term stability and prosperity of the nation.

Recurrent incidents of racist and inter-communal violence are disturbing, as are announced plans to resume use of the death penalty.

The UN Chief said that she has been a political detainee and the daughter of political detainees, a refugee and a physician – including for children who experienced torture, and the enforced disappearance of their parents.

This is the eve of the day on which we Chileans mark the memory of the coup d’état, 45 years ago, and the ensuing years of brutal oppression and bloodshed. My country has known the pain and terror of tyranny. But I am proud to say we have been able to surmount divisions and meet vast challenges – shaping institutions which enable greater participation, and greater freedom, justice and dignity, for our people she said.

Ms Bachelet said “I bring to the cause of human rights the diversity of cultures that have nourished my approach to public service. I bring my commitment to bridging the differences between communities, and promoting respect, well-being and freedom.”

She also acknowledged the courage and the achievements of her predecessor, High Commissioner Zeid stating that his activism, humanity and formidable intelligence have advanced the cause of human rights, and brought great access and impact to our Office and that he truly became the spokesman for those who are voiceless: the victims of human rights violations. Their needs and rights should always be the central focus of our work.

Human rights express the core purpose of the United Nations: we can only attain peace, security and sustainable development for all societies when we advance the dignity and equality of all human beings. In the course of my work, I fully intend to honour both the spirit and the practises established by my predecessors she said. (OHCHR)

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