Sunday, 9 March 2008

Louise Arbour Will be Missed in Geneva

Nine years ago, I wrote an op-ed in the Canadian newspaper National Post entitled 'Louise Arbour Will be Missed in The Hague'. I spoke of her three years of exceptional service as Prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She left the international sphere to take up a prestigious position as Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2003, Secretary-General Kofi Annan managed to lure her back to the United Nations, apparently after an initial refusal. She has been an extraordinary High Commissioner, and only the enemies of human rights can be pleased about her decision not to stand for a second five-year term. Louise says it is a personal decision and I think we all must respect such a choice, coming from someone who has given eight years of her life to what is very difficulty and demanding work. But we are sad to see her go, and she will be hard to replace.
We have been lucky, so far, to have such fine High Commissioners for Human Rights. The first to hold the office was rather lacklustre. The Mary Robinson took on the job, and she was followed by Sergio Vierra de Mello, who lost his life to an assassin in Baghdad in August 2003. The interim between Sergio Vierra de Mello and Louise Arbour was assured by Bertie Ramcharan, one of the great human rights professionals of our time. By the way, there is a fascinating new book on the life of Sergio Vierra de Mello, by Samantha Power: Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. There is also a new book of speeches by Mary Robinson, edited by Kevin Boyle: Mary Robinson, A Voice for Human Rights, Philadelphia, Penn, 2006. See my review in (2008) 30 Human Rights Quarterly 209-211.
Two years ago the National University of Ireland gave Louise Arbour an honorary doctorate. When she came for the conferring, she met with students from around Ireland. They were all impressed with her warmth, her candour and her command of the subject matter. I hope that when she steps down she'll have time to visit us again.
One of the aspects of her term as High Commissioner that I have found particularly fascinating is the leadership she has shown on issues of international human rights law. Under her direction, the Office of the High Commissioner has issued position papers and even intervened as amicus curiae in court cases.

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