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U.N. rights chief wary of rising nationalism

The U.N. human rights chief cautioned against rising nationalism, saying she fears people are "moving further away from global solutions to global problems."

GENEVA (AN) — The United Nations' top human rights official on Wednesday cautioned against dangers of rising nationalism, saying she fears that people are "moving further away from global solutions to global problems."

Michelle Bachelet, who has headed the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, since September 2018, said that after a year in the job she sees "two clear trends that are taking us in opposite directions" — more interconnectedness versus increased nationalism.

"The impact of human rights violations in one part of the world can have serious regional and international repercussions on another," said Bachelet, who became a pediatrician and public health advocate before starting a career in politics that led her to two terms as Chile’s president from 2006 to 2010 and 2014 to 2018.

"We have seen this with large numbers of people fleeing their countries due to armed conflicts, insecurity, political oppression, climate crises and failure to protect economic, social and cultural rights," she told a news briefing. "We see also this with the fires that are raging in the Amazon, and with the ice caps melting in Greenland and elsewhere."

Bachelet warned that the "fires of hate speech, racist and xenophobic rhetoric can spread through the darkest webs of the Internet and openly on social media," spurring violations and abuses in the name of protecting sovereignty or national borders.

She referenced wars or conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Hong Kong, Russia, Indonesian Papua, Indian-administered Kashmir, Honduras and Zimbabwe.

"Human rights violations are everybody’s business because they can affect us all at a very fundamental level: our peace and security, our economies, our very lungs depend on the promotion and protection of human rights in places far from our homes, no matter where we live," said Bachelet.

"Unfortunately, the other trend is taking us in the opposite direction," she said. "More than ever before, sovereignty and national borders are being invoked to prevent human rights issues from being raised and tackled in a concerted way."

Transnational cooperation

Nationalists concerned above all by their own self-interests have long shaped the world. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has been at the forefront of a fiercely aggressive revival of right-wing and populist nationalism, particularly White nationalism, from the United States to Europe to India and beyond.

The main issue for nationalists, who admire strongmen such as Russia's President Vladimir Putin, often is immigration — keeping out migrants. Many denounce multilateral institutions and transnational cooperation.

Pushing back, Bachelet encouraged nations to back international treaties such as the Paris Agreement on climate change; two new U.N. accords, the Global Compact for Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees, adopted last December; and the U.N.'s bedrock Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

"The international community — ourselves included — is warned not to interfere in internal matters by states around the world. This is a global concern and an increasing trend," she said. "These two trends moving in opposite directions appear to be taking us further and further away from global solutions to global problems."