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New UN human rights chief is torture survivor herself

SANTIAGO, Chile — Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was 23 years old when she was tortured and fled her country’s dictatorship into exile. Now, more than four decades later, she will face her past fighting such abuses worldwide as the new U.N. human rights chief.

Bachelet, 66, is often seen smiling, chatting easily or tossing unplanned comments or jokes into her speeches. But behind her good humor lie haunting memories of the brutal dictatorship that tore her family apart.

Her father, air force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, died in 1974 following months of torture in prison. Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military had convicted him of being a traitor.

Bachelet herself was arrested along with her mother in 1975, and her time in a secret prison was an ordeal she prefers not to talk about.