Louise Arbour says a number of interesting things – giving glimpses into complex realities

At what was just a routinely-scheduled press conference with journalists on Wednesday, while she was visiting UNHQ/NY, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour of Canada (former judge, and former chief prosecutor at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) said a number of interesting things — all in response to questions from journalists.

Here are excerpts, according to the summary given in a UN Press release:

“Responding to questions about prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere without access to an independent judicial review of their cases, she said that lack of access had been her concern upon the creation of the ‘Guantanamo environment’ — described by some as a ‘legal black hole’. ‘I hope we will see the American judicial system rise to its long-standing reputation as a guardian of fundamental human rights and civil liberties and provide the protection to all that are under the authority, control, and, therefore, in my view, jurisdiction, of the United States’.

Regarding this week’s International Court of Justice ruling that Serbia had not been responsible for the genocide of Bosnians in Srebrenica, she said that, based on the broad outlines of that very sophisticated opinion, the decision that would resonate most would be the one dealing with the obligation to prevent genocide. That had now been overshadowed, however, by disappointment that Serbia had been found not to have been an actual perpetrator of the crime of genocide. However, one should not underestimate the resonance that the further opinion would have regarding the obligation of States, not only those complicit or actively implicit in acts of genocide, but also those with a responsibility to prevent it. She pointed out that the International Court of Justice had made extensive use of the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which showed the quality of the jurisprudence emerging from the International Criminal Tribunals. It was difficult to speculate about what the outcome would have been had the late Slobodan Milosevic been found directly and personally responsible for genocide, particularly in relation to Srebrenica, she said. However, there had been no resolution at his trial and the amount of evidence accumulated and made available to the International Court of Justice had obviously been of assistance.

[S]he said in reference to the court brief she had recently filed in Iraq against the death penalty that human rights advocacy in court was particularly effective. ‘In fact, it is the form of choice for the advancement of human rights; courts are the primary guardians, not only of human rights standards, but of the application, the implementation of rights’, she stressed. The document filed in the Iraq high tribunal was actually an application for a leave to submit the brief, she said. To the extent there would be opportunities elsewhere to advance important human rights issues — whether in international courts, regional courts, or in a national tribunal — within the limits of her capacity, that was certainly something to be considered. ‘If the courts are willing to listen to us, as I said, I think it’s a form that we should not shy away from’.

Asked to comment on the fact that the Human Rights Council had issued eight resolutions on Israel and only one setting up the mission to the Sudan, she said that, while the Council was an intergovernmental body, it was also a quintessential political body. Whatever its mandate, it was a body of 47 Member States, which reacted — or failed to react — to situations rather than to abstract human rights principles. That was why it was so important for the United Nations system to have not just the Human Rights Council, but also special procedures, independent experts, the treaty body system and the Office of the High Commissioner.”

The UN story about Louise Arbour’s remarks is here.