GENEVA February 25, 2019 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday called for “courage and vision” from State leaders to advance both the interests of humanity and the national interest of their own countries, stressing that human rights-based policies deliver better outcomes across the social and economic spectrum – and beyond borders.

At the opening of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in the presence of high-level officials from around the world, Bachelet drew on the lessons she learned during her two terms as President of Chile, prior to taking up the post of UN Human Rights Chief.

In my service as a Head of State and Head of Government I learned many things, but there are two lessons that I would like to share with you this morning,” said Bachelet.

One was very simple: there was rarely a serious gap between the interest of humanity, and the national interest of my country. If a policy seems in the short term to advance a narrow interest, but hurts the future of humanity, that policy is surely counter-productive. Today, we sometimes hear human rights being dismissed as supposedly “globalist” – as opposed to the patriotic interest of a sovereign government. But how can any State’s interests be advanced by policies that damage the well-being of all humans?”

“The second lesson…in my capacity as a Head of State; as a government Minister, a member of non-governmental organisations; and a refugee myself, I saw many human rights measures being debated, enacted, updated and upheld. And I watched these measures work. It can be done. I have seen it done.”

Bachelet stressed that human rights-based policies prevent grievances, conflicts, inequalities, and suffering and discrimination of all kinds.

“Policies that build social justice also help to develop stronger economies. They drive more inclusive political systems, better frameworks for education, health-care, and other basic services. They build confidence and social harmony. They deepen trust. They build hope,” she said.

The High Commissioner emphasised that there “cannot be optimal, sustainable or inclusive development when the voices of civil society are absent”, calling on authorities to engage in respectful dialogue with civil society.

“Public policy is complex: I know this. Achieving good human rights outcomes in the real world of government requires the balancing of many issues. It is not – or very rarely – about perfection. It is about progress. And it can be done by all countries. One just needs courage, and vision,” Bachelet told the gathering of dignitaries.

Where leaders have the foresight to see the advantages of human rights-based policies, and the political will to advance them, we will be eager to bring practical assistance. Our technical cooperation programmes and policy guidance – which benefit from careful human rights monitoring and analysis – will have powerful effect.”

Bachelet acknowledged that in the current political landscape, the will is not always there, and that in some countries, important human rights advances are being dismantled, while in other countries, States drag their feet on crucial issues like climate change.

“In today’s currents, in this uncharted storm of heavy winds and rising seas, careless leadership could carry our countries into catastrophe. Or we can use fundamental principles to steer our vessels to safety in more peaceful waters,” she said.

Bachelet also called for an end to the violence in Venezuela and for a solution grounded in human rights.