Louise Arbour & The Big Boys

The great, the wonderful Louise Arbour, one of my teachers and, obviously, one of my heroines, has left her position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It was expected that Arbour would continue in this position.  Officially, her four year term was up, but it is generally acknowledged that she was pushed out (sorry Louise, but I don’t believe you gave up a position as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada for a four-year stint at the UN and then ended your career because you wanted to “come home”).  You can see why no one pressed her to continue.  For starters, here’s a report on Arbour’s speech upon leaving office:

GENEVA (Reuters) – Outgoing United Nations human rights chief Louise Arbour hit out on Monday against mistreatment of women and gays in many countries and called for equal condemnation of rights violations wherever they happen.

In a farewell speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, she also urged it to condemn anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia, and to speak out against abuse of minorities, immigrants and people from perceived lower castes.

“A key aspect of women’s legal disenfranchisement in many countries is the limitation placed on their ability to own or manage property, including through unjust divorce or inheritance laws,” she told the 47-nation body, where Islamic countries have a strong hold on the agenda.

The “perpetuation of prejudices continues to deny equal rights and dignity to millions worldwide on the basis of nothing more innocuous than their sexual identity or orientation, or their ancestry in the case of caste discrimination,” she said.

Some Islamic and African countries in the Council, which have a majority when backed by their frequent allies Russia, China and Cuba, have frequently been angered by Arbour’s views, although she has also often spoken out against Israeli policies.

Many countries in the majority group have made little secret of their wish to bring the high commissioner’s office under the control of the Council. The post is currently responsible to the U.N. Secretary-General, who nominates its occupant.

Arbour, who on Monday also criticised prejudice and actions against illegal immigrants in Europe, especially in Italy, recognised that there was still scepticism about the Council, set up two years ago to replace a discredited predecessor.

Independent human rights groups complain that major abuses — especially in developing nations — are ignored because groups of states in the Council block discussion or action on complaints that might embarrass their members.

Arbour herself warned that “regional or communal positions” or “narrow parochial political agendas” in the body could prevent it from ever becoming effective.

Western diplomats say that countries that in the past benefited from U.N. pressure on their governments over rights — like South Africa — are now among the first to reject what they regard as interference in internal affairs.

In her farewell address, Arbour suggested that the failure to bring the Yangon regime to book over long-term rights violations had encouraged it to refuse to allow in most outside help after last month’s devastating hurricane.

Myanmar’s government has since responded to international outrage by saying it will admit all “legitimate” foreign aid workers, but several aid workers are still complaining that red tape is hampering their efforts.

And a bit of an interview with Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. The state of human rights in the world today, can you talk about it?

LOUISE ARBOUR: You know, we will begin the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We’ll start celebrating it towards the end of this year. 2008 is the target date. And the Universal Declaration, by definition, is meant to express universal ideals, and I think this concept is very much under attack.

There are claims all over the world that the human rights agenda is a carrier of Western values. It’s manipulated in the pursuit of Western-read US-interest. That’s one discourse. The discourse we hear, on the other hand, in America is that the human rights agenda has been hijacked by the bad guys, by those who don’t believe in human rights and who are trying, for instance, to hijack the Human Rights Council to totally undermine the human rights values. So we see this very, very severe, profound attack on the very concept of universality of rights.

AMY GOODMAN: You came into office soon after the US invaded Iraq. Do you see the world as a more or less dangerous place today? This is more than, what, close to five years later.

LOUISE ARBOUR: I think it is a very unstable world. I think we see the emergence and the recurrence of conflict everywhere. We know, for instance, that the best predictor of whether conflict will erupt is whether there was conflict in the previous five years. So we’ve been extremely poor, I think, at managing post-military intervention in Iraq. We’re not even in that phase yet. But I think everywhere else we have an enormous challenge in managing stability, which I think is because we’re never addressing the very profound root causes of conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: Which are?

LOUISE ARBOUR: I think, not to over simplify the issue, it’s clearly linked to the very severe inequalities in access to wealth or wealth distribution between states and within states. And I think this exacerbates-and that’s easily manipulated then by political agenda that prey on people’s faith or religious beliefs, values. But at the end of the day we have a very unjust, very unfair world and very few institutions that permit a peaceful forum to address these issues.

Arbour never did pull her punches.  Canadians can be proud of this straight talking woman who said things that UN officials really do need to say, but usually don’t.  Stephen Lewis too.  It’s well known that the Canadian delegation at the UN did not honour Ms Arbour upon her resignation, as is traditional.  Thanks again Steve.

Given her work as chief prosecutor of war crimes for the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, during which time she indicted Slobodan Milosevic for genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as her more recent work, I think that Louise Arbour should get a Nobel Peace Prize.  But then I’m biased.

Here’s a video of CBC’s interview with Ms Arbour on As it Happens with Carol Off.

BTW, Arbour also submitted an amicus brief to the SCOTUS on the Boumediene case. Here’s what she had to say about that:

June 12, 2008 – GENEVA – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, welcomed Thursday’s decision by the United States Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush that the U.S. Constitution extends to foreign detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that they have the right to challenge their detention by habeas corpus in the civilian courts.

“The Supreme Court has sent a vitally important message that the protections afforded by fundamental human rights guarantees extend to these individuals and that effective remedies must be available to them. After up to six years in detention in Guantanamo Bay without satisfactory review of the reasons for their detention, these detainees have the right to prompt review in the civilian courts,” Arbour said.

“I welcome the Court’s recognition that security and liberty are not trade-offs, but can be reconciled through the framework of the law, and that it is the courts that apply that law,” she said. “This has long been the hallmark of American constitutionalism.” 

The High Commissioner expressed the hope that, now that these legal issues have been clearly and definitively settled, the civilian courts will be able to move promptly to assess the situation of individual detainees. 

The High Commissioner submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court. In it, she argued, as a matter of international law, for the same conclusion the Court reached today.  

Here’s a bunch more stuff on Louise, Arbour if you’re not impressed yet. 

One thought on “Louise Arbour & The Big Boys

  1. You mentioned that HRC is overwhelmingly dominated by Islamisc countries. This is absolutely true and, that’s why no one including UNHCHR have said anything about Bangaldesh’s ongoing ‘Ethno- Religious Cleansing’ & ‘Crime Against Minoreity Women’ which started in October 2001. The figures of rape/gang rape/ killings/ assaults/ land grab/ razing of places of worship/ internal & external displacemens of minorities are simply staggering to say the least and, should already been classified as Genocide. Like Darfur, Bangladesh minorities need a champion like Mia Farrow to draw the attention of the world & unequivocal condemnation of this Islamic majority country which is supposedly perceived as a modarate Muslim state.

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