Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

Louise Arbor

In the summer of 1999, Louise Arbour visited a war-crimes site in the southeastern Kosovo village of Vlastica. She walked for a time with a local Albanian woman, who confessed to still fearing for her life. "Don't worry," Arbour replied. "We're here now."

The exchange was classic Arbour: a singular balance of strength and empathy. During her three years as chief prosecutor of war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, this remarkable Canadian stood up to the bullies and stood up for the victims. She demonstrated courage and tenacity, compassion and tact. Above all, she demonstrated persistence. By working to bring to trial former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and many other government officials, Arbour was instrumental in raising the profile of the tribunal from relative obscurity to what many believe to be the most effective international criminal court ever. She returned home when she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. Her international influence is only likely to grow anew when she assumes, in June, the position of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to which Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently named her.

When this Montreal-born jurist was named chief prosecutor in the Hague in 1996, the world, perhaps, did not know what to expect from her. But Canadians did. Our nation has a history of passionate advocacy and determined action for human rights, and the Canadian armed forces have long played a significant role in peacekeeping missions around the world. Our government is the first to make it a priority to ensure that the supply of cheap drugs to combat HIV/AIDS is made available to Africa. We knew that Arbour would represent the virtues we hold dearest: fairness, integrity, a respect for diversity, a belief in equality and, above all else, respect for the individual. She did just that, with exemplary dedication and boundless energy, during her tenure at the court in the Hague. I don't doubt for a moment that she will do so again, and this time on a global scale, in her new assignment.

Martin is the Prime Minister of Canada