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United Nations

Opening Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to the 39th session of the Human Rights Council

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights
September 10, 2018

Distinguished President,

Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva,


Colleagues and friends,

It is an honour to be called to this mandate, to assist States to uphold the human rights of their people, in this year in which we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration is a commitment to values and policies that have delivered tremendous benefit to millions of people. This Council, my Office, and every Member State of the United Nations must continue to push forward with that work. The future of our world depends upon it.

I want to acknowledge the courage and the achievements of my predecessor, High Commissioner Zeid. His activism, humanity and formidable intelligence have advanced the cause of human rights, and brought great access and impact to our Office. 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.

I bring to this mandate my experience in public service and my lifelong dedication to reversing hatred and ensuring equality and respect for all.

I have been a political detainee and the daughter of political detainees. I have been a refugee and a physician – including for children who experienced torture, and the enforced disappearance of their parents. I have headed a United Nations body, and I have been honoured to lead my country, twice, as its President.

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.

And so 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.

I bring my fundamental attachment to the courage, the dignity and selflessness of all defenders and activists for human rights.

Human rights are a powerful medicine, which heals wounds and develops resilience.

I bring my absolute conviction that cooperation between all actors, through multilateral institutions, can solve the complex challenges that face the world, and that by working to uphold human rights, my Office – like this Council – can ensure more just and respectful societies, living together in sustainable development and security.

Good governance is based on identifying and amending gaps in access to justice, dignity and equality – so that all can live in more respectful and harmonious societies, and enjoy development that is more dynamic and sustainable.

Good doctoring is based on building resilience: strengthening healing processes and intervening to interrupt symptoms of pathology.

And human rights are a powerful medicine, which heals wounds and develops resilience.