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Canada's Arbour quits UN commissioner post

Former Supreme Court judge locked horns with U.S. over tactics in 'war on terror'

Toronto Star March 08, 2008, by Olivia Ward Foreign Affairs Reporter

Canada's Louise Arbour is saying farewell to one of the world's toughest jobs: United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

"I am not quitting because of this pressure," Arbour told reporters in Geneva in advance of her announcement yesterday. "On the contrary, I have to resist the temptation to stay and confront it."

Said Arbour spokesperson Rupert Colville: "She's not resigning or throwing in the towel. She is simply not seeking another term."

Arbour told reporters that she wanted to spend Read More ..me with her family after years of travel in some 20 countries.

The former international prosecutor, who will return to Canada after the end of June, made the announcement while presenting a typically hard-hitting annual report that will be the last of her four-year term.

"Let me emphasize once again the need for respecting human rights, as well as for greater transparency and accountability, when encountering terrorism," she told the UN's controversial Human Rights Council, a state-dominated body that is separate from her office.

"This requires maximum possible disclosure regarding practices of particular concern, including the use of torture and international transfers of detainees, as well as accountability for illegal actions," she said, in an apparent dig at the United States.

Since leaving Canada's Supreme Court to take the top human rights job, Arbour has locked horns with the U.S. over its two-fisted prosecution of the "war on terror."

America's former UN ambassador, John Bolton, said her criticisms were "inappropriate and illegitimate" based on "nothing Read More .. evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

Tensions ratcheted up when Arbour slammed Israel's military action against the Palestinians, and a furor later broke out when she was said to have endorsed a provision in an Arab human rights charter that equated Zionism with racism - an event her office later denied.

Arbour also fought battles with developing countries in the Human Rights Council that wanted her to overlook their shabby rights records, and tried to exert control over her office. Arbour's role is independent of governments.

In Geneva this week, she said: "I have not been the target of a hidden lobby or secret pressure." But she told the council "allegations of bias, hypocrisy and dereliction of duty" were "outside the acceptable range."

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier praised Arbour's work in "expanding the concepts of human rights and fundamental justice. She championed causes that had languished at the margins of the human rights work of the United Nations. She was steadfast in the pursuit of her vision of an independent high commissioner who acts in new and energetic ways to increase the presence of her office around the world."

Rights advocates said Arbour was a "robust" defender of rights worldwide, even under attack.

"In this job, you have to be a human shock absorber," said Steve Crawshaw, New York-based UN advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "You have to be strong when people make suggestions that are absolutely below the belt."

Amnesty International called Arbour a "forceful and formidable" rights advocate.