Skip to content Skip to navigation

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Speaks with Handa students

Apr 23 2019

By Isabel Vasquez, Handa Center Student Assistant

The Handa Center presented a small group of students recently with the opportunity to sit down with Michelle Bachelet, the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The High Commissioner dedicated much of the session to answering questions from the students, expressing her desire to hear the concerns and interests of the Stanford community.

On the subject of reforms at the United Nations, High Commissioner Bachelet expressed her belief that the problems at the UN today are “more political than technical.” If she could push through one reform of the UN system she would get rid of the veto in the Security Council, a body which she believes “is not representative” of the world population.

High Commissioner Bachelet also spoke extensively on climate change, an issue she believes will need to transcend the geopolitics and polarization of today. In terms of next steps, she opined that, rather than forming new agreements, governments need to take action to implement those that have already been made.

On the role of her office, High Commissioner Bachelet clarified that OHCHR is not a humanitarian office, nor is it involved in direct political interventions. Consequently, she spoke about the importance of timing her country visits to ensure that they are “not just tourist visits” but visits that produce real outcomes. Regarding her role specifically, the High Commissioner explained that while she is often expected to “name and shame,” she prefers to focus more on achieving positive outcomes and believes that working face to face with relevant parties is often more successful. She credits part of this focus to her tenure as the first female president of Chile. Referencing that experience, she spoke about the importance of increasing visibility for women holding political office and discussed the various merits and drawbacks of a quota system with the Stanford audience.