Louise Arbour

Published 1st July 2014
Louise Arbour’s list of honours and awards is staggering, and rightly so. Her long and distinguished career began in academia: following her graduation from the Université de Montréal where she completed an LL.B in 1970, she taught at Osgoode Hall Law School, climbing the ranks to become Associate Professor and Dean. From academia, she was elevated directly to the high court of Canada, and from here her human rights legacy began.

Widely renowned for her work as Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, her integrity and commitment to justice commands international respect, and (an unfortunate scarcity in an age where those more ostentatious lawyers can find themselves a platform upon which to be pandered to with relative ease) Louise has never succumbed to the lure of personal fame and publicity. Her most striking act as Chief Prosecutor was her indictment of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević for war crimes, the deplorability of which extended to ethnic cleansing and the ruthless murder of political opponents and former friends alike. This was the first time in history that a serving Head of State was brought to account for their actions, cementing Louise’s reputation in world history and dramatically changing the political landscape of Europe for the better.

After serving this role, Louise became a Justice on the Supreme Court of her native Canada, before serving as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2004-2008. Here she took a strong, uncompromising stance on the human rights records of several UN states, ruffling some feathers, but acknowledging that this was a necessity in her job; in her own words, had she kept all players happy, ‘you would have to wonder about the quality of work’. Certainly, Louise Arbour was not one to succumb to the pressures of political heavyweights.

Yesterday, Louise stood down from her five year tenure as President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, where her contribution to the resolution and prevention of often unexpected and transformational crises has been described as extraordinary.