As reported by CNN correspondent Daniel Matamala, UN Watch is responsible for sparking a firestorm over the problematic ties of new UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet with Latin America’s human rights abusing dictatorships, including Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
• U.S. SPEAKS OUT: In wake of UN Watch’s press release (see below), the U.S. delegation to the UN issued a powerful statement calling on the new UN rights chief to address Cuba and Venezuela. “The UN system has failed to adequately address major human rights crises in Iran, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere, or stop its chronic, disproportionate obsession with Israel. It is up to Ms. Bachelet to speak out against these failures rather than accept the status quo.”
• MEDIA REPORTS: UN Watch’s statement on Bachelet was quoted by leading Spanish newspapers La Vanguardia and ABC, Fox News, Eurasia Review, CNS News, as well as Diario de Cuba, Martí Noticias and Diario Concepción.
• HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS: The Human Rights Foundation tweeted that it “shares UN Watch’s concern over Bachelet’s fitness to hold the highest UN human rights office, due to her track record cozying up to Latin American dictators.”
Italy’s Matteo Angioli, Secretary of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law and activist with the Non-Violent Radical Party, also posted UN Watch’s statement. Dissident Rosa Maria Paya noted that Cuba and Venezuela praised Bachelet’s appointment.
Human Rights Watch chief Ken Roth initially had only praise for Bachelet. But then UN Watch reminded him how his own Latin American director had slammed Bachelet’s record on both Cuba and Venezuela. Under pressure, Roth reversed course and shared a sharp critique by Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez, and he acknowledged that Bachelet had “downplayed repression by leftist Latin American governments such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.”
• INFLUENCERS: Opinion makers who shared UN Watch’s Bachelet concerns on social media included fearless Florida congresswoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Venezuelan journalist Alberto Rodriguez, Venezuelan author Leonardo Padrón, NYU professor Patricio Navia, Chilean lawyer and ex-presidential candidate José Antonio Kast, Chilean lawyer and politician Tomás Jocelyn-Holt, Chilean activist and lawyer Luis Mariano Rendón, Venezuelan author Karl Krispin and German writer Alex Feuerherdt.
• UN SPOX ON DEFENSIVE: Amid the backlash, UN spokesman Farhan Haq was put on the defensive (video) over Bachelet’s appointment. Asked at his daily press briefing about UN Watch’s concerns over Bachelet’s ties to the Castro and Maduro regimes, Haq stumbled to find a response. He then settled on portraying her proximity to the human rights abusers as a good thing — because, in her new post as UN rights chief, “the important point is to reach out to all leaders and be able to have a dialogue with them…”
New UN Human Rights Chief Has Spotty Record On Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua; Watchdog Expresses ‘Serious Concerns’
GENEVA, August 10, 2018 – The non-governmental human rights group UN Watch congratulated Michelle Bachelet on her appointment today as UN human rights chief, but joined Amnesty International, UNA-UK and other NGOs in criticizing the lack of transparency of the rushed process.
In particular, UN Watch regretted that Bachelet has not yet responded to questions that were raised over her spotty record on supporting human rights in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
In a statement released on Wednesday, UN Watch had asked to meet the former Chilean president to obtain clarifications.
“There’s no question that the former Chilean president is a highly educated and intelligent politician, who also brings important negotiating skills,” said Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.
“But she has a controversial record when it comes to her support for the human rights abusing governments who rule Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and we need to know how she plans to address these urgent situations.”
Neuer cited the following Bachelet actions that he said raise “troubling questions”:
• 2018 Cuba Visit: Bachelet’s visit to Cuba earlier this year, one of her last trips before leaving office, was strongly criticized by members of her own party and others, especially human rights activists. She met with the last military dictator of the Americas, Gen. Raúl Castro, without seeing any member of Cuba’s peaceful opposition.
Opposition leader Rosa María Payá asked Bachelet to meet with human rights dissidents during her trip to the island, but that request was completely ignored. “She is rewarding those responsible for the longest dictatorship in the region,” said Payá.
“Her closeness to Havana is marked by an ideological nostalgia that clouds her view and her ability to recognize the lack of rights that mark the lives of Cubans,” said prominent Cuban human rights blogger Yoani Sanchez.
“In each of her two terms,” wrote Sanchez, “Bachelet avoided showing sympathy for the cause of Cuban dissidents and has declined any contact with the countless activists from the island who have visited her country in recent years. From her mouth, there has never been any condemnation of the political repression systematically carried out by Raúl Castro, even when the victims are women.”
• Praised Cuban Dictator: On Fidel Castro’s death, she called him “a leader for dignity and social justice in Cuba and Latin America,” a statement that was sharply criticized by Chilean political leaders across the spectrum, who said it showed insensitivity to victims of Cuban state repression.
• Praised Hugo Chavez: Bachelet eulogized Chavez — whose legacy in Venezuela is mass hunger, jailed opposition leaders and a failed state — for “his most profound love for his people and the challenges of our region to eradicate poverty and generate a better life for everyone and his profound love for Latin America.”
• Refusal to Condemn Maduro, Slammed by HRW: Bachelet was called out by Human Rights Watch’s Latin America chief in July 2017 for her “serious error” of “failing to characterize the Nicolás Maduro regime as a dictatorship, or at least as a regime that broke the constitutional order,” as affirmed by 20 countries in the OAS. “The most serious thing,” said José Miguel Vivanco, “is that the president [Bachelet] continues to insist that the problem of Venezuela is the lack of dialogue, suggesting that there is a kind of shared responsibility.”
• Quiet on Nicaragua Killings: Over the past months of the Ortega regime’s killing of hundreds of protesters, Bachelet’s twitter account shows not a single tweet mentioning Nicaragua or its victims.
UN Watch expressed regret that none of the above concerns were addressed before her appointment was approved, only two days after her name was put forward by the Secretary-General.
On process, UN Watch noted the following:
• No Transparency: The appointment was treated as an internal recruitment process, without a public list of candidates or required vision statements. Transparency over such an important appointment would have helped to improve public perceptions of the High Commissioner’s office, and conformed with the UN’s own best practices. Only one candidate, Nils Melzer, publicly declared his candidacy, and shared his vision for the role.
• Timing: Bachelet with less than a month to get ready for the global position, the shortest preparation time in the role’s history.