Canada: Louise Arbour

The refusal to bring war criminals to account would be an affront to those who obey the law, and a betrayal of those who rely on it for their life and security.

— Louise Arbour

Louise Arbour is best known as a chief prosecutor for tribunals into the genocide in Rwanda and human rights abuses in Yugoslavia. She earned an international reputation for courage and tenacity and gained the respect of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and human rights groups worldwide. Louise served as a justice on the supreme court of Canada for five years, leaving in 2004 to become the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She replaced Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.

Louise garnered her current position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights partly because of her accomplishments in the criminal justice system in Canada. She takes pride in the impressive reputation that the supreme court of Canada has internationally. In 2000, Canada's justice system was ranked second best in the world, behind only Denmark, by the prestigious Davos Institute in Switzerland. "Foreign jurisdictions have looked to our Court on a variety of issues, notably assisted suicide, restrictions on political statements by civil servants, and campaign spending rules," Louise said. In particular, she notes that Canada has taken a leading position in the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As she sees it, such an international criminal justice body can play a leading role in transforming the concept of peacekeeping. "Such a transformation is a very natural one, since criminal law, at the domestic level, is the preferred system for maintaining and restoring peace," she said. "In fact, it is a substitute for the use of force or armed intervention, an approach that all too often seems to be the only option available internationally, albeit the least attractive one." Louise envisions that military intervention–usually exercised under the guise of keeping the peace–is always governed by law and subject to civil and criminal liability. Those intervening militarily in international conflicts must be held accountable for their actions, she maintains. And she recognizes that Canada can help make the vision of international criminal accountability a reality. "The fundamental principles that make Canada's criminal law legitimate and effective are exportable, and they cannot be conveyed merely by advocating ideas at diplomatic meetings. They must be promoted by commitment to the issue and actual presence on the ground."

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Supreme Court of Canada