UN Human Rights Commissioner will not seek second term

A spokesman for Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told journalists at a regular bi-weekly briefing in Geneva on Friday that “A short while ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour confirmed to the states attending the Human Rights Council here in Geneva that she will not be seeking a second term after her mandate as High Commissioner expires on 30 June. By that time she will have served a full four-year term, and she does not wish to commit herself to do another four years. The procedure for appointing her successor is as follows: The Secretary-General, in consultation with members states will select a suitable candidate, who will then need to be confirmed by the General Assembly”.

Reuters reported that Arbour spoke to journalists at the Palais des Nations in Geneva before the formal announcement was made: ” ‘We have to be out there assisting those whose obligation it is to enforce these rights. This does not make the position of High Commissioner more comfortable, more sheltered from criticism — quite the opposite’, she told journalists before confirming her departure to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council … Arbour’s forthright candour aroused criticism from around the world but she brushed this off as ‘inevitable’. ‘I tend to distinguish between criticisms that have a certain validity to them, especially those expressed in good faith, and those which often don’t have much merit’, she said. ‘I am not leaving my job because of these pressures. On the contrary, I have to resist the temptation to stay on to face them’, she told reporters. ‘It is very much for personal reasons. I am not prepared to make a commitment for another four years of this work. I have a family and find myself working essentially all the time here and travelling’, she said. ‘I’m going home, basically’. Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court Justice and chief UN war crimes prosecutor … said “You can’t write off the [UN Human Rights] Council after two years”… This Reuters report is posted here .

Journalists have been asking since the beginning of the week for confirmation of rumors that the High Commissioner was planning to resign.

It is a damned-if-you-do, and damned-if-you-don’t kind of job.

During the debate in the Human Rights Council on Thursday, the representative of Egypt said with reproach that “the people of Palestine had recently been subjected to a new Israeli aggression that went far beyond all previous Israeli practices. Meanwhile, the civilized world was standing still and watching. Such inaction implied that it was acceptable to kill all people, as long as they were Palestinians.  Egypt wondered whether the Palestinian people had the right to enjoy the universality of human rights. Most had even requested the victims to apologise to the aggressor.  Could those crude rockets be used as an excuse for bombardments and the massive killings the Palestinians were suffering from? There was no objective balance. What would have happened if it had been the Palestinians that had came with a threat of a Holocaust against Israel. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been often called to follow objectively the handling of the Palestinian case. The High Commissioner had been completely silent for six days, during which hundreds of Palestinians had been killed, and later she had unequivocally emphasized Israel’s right to self-defence. The High Commissioner was asked for the reason behind strongly condemning the actions of the occupied and why she had said that those rockets were a clear violation of international humanitarian law; while Israeli atrocities were merely a ‘disproportionate use of force’. It would be appreciated if the High Commissioner could explain if her mandate included making political and legal judgement with regard to self defence”.

In her remarks to Thursday’s session of the HR Council, a UN press release said, Arbour “echoed the concern expressed by the Secretary-General on the magnitude of the violence that had been taking place in southern Israel and Gaza where many civilians continued to die in attacks and counter-attacks.  The protection of human rights, and in particular of civilians’ lives, could not await the outcome of a political process. The international community must step up pressure on both sides to uphold their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, and must ensure that failure to do so was dealt with appropriately.

“On the issue of Palestinian pregnant women giving birth at Israeli checkpoints, while there was a decrease in their number during the reporting period, the restrictions on mobility and rising poverty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory resulted in limited and unpredictable access to health care for pregnant Palestinian women…

“Ms. Arbour said she was painfully aware that since the end of February violence had erupted again, killing at least 120 Palestinians and three Israelis. She was deeply alarmed about the death of the civilians. She condemned the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against civilian targets, as well as the Israel Defence Force’s
disproportionate use of force. She urged all parties to conduct law-based, independent, transparent and accessible investigations into the killings of civilians, to make the findings public and to hold any perpetrators accountable. All human rights were equal for all human beings and no party could claim that, in defending its own population,
it was allowed to disavow the rights of others”, the UN press release said.

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