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Protecting human rights in an age of uncertainty

Speaker: Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Chair: Professor Christine Chinkin, Centre for the Study of Human Rights
February 2006

Click here to download the text of Louise Arbour's lecture (PDF)


Only a little while ago, the progress of human dignity seemed a given. Now there are times when everything - human rights, international law, democracy itself - seems to be up for grabs. Which way will the world plunge? Standing right at the centre of the debate about the direction of freedom and human rights is the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. This lecture will examine the place of human rights protection in the world today and consider the various challenges that the subject faces. It will also appraise the performance of the United Nations as a guarantor of international human rights.

Louise Arbour has been United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights since July 2004. Until June 2004, Mrs Arbour was a member of the Supreme Court of Canada. She served as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda from 1996 to 2000, during which time she indicted former Yugoslav and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, among others, for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his part in atrocities committed in Kosovo. The indictment of Slobodan Milosevic was the first of a serving Head of State.

Mrs Arbour was appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario after having served as a trial judge for the High Court of Justice for the Supreme Court of Ontario since 1987. She earned widespread recognition in Canada for her work at the head of an investigation into the operation of the correctional service, based on allegations by female inmates at a women's prison in Kingston, Ontario.

Before 1987, she was an associate professor and associate dean at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. Throughout her academic and judicial career, Mrs. Arbour has published extensively in the area of criminal procedure, criminal law, human rights, civil liberties and gender issues.

Mrs Arbour received her bachelor's degree from Quebec's College Regina Assumpta in 1967 and her LL.L from the Faculty of Law at the University of Montreal in 1970. She was called to the Quebec Bar in 1971 and the Ontario Bar in 1977. She received a Doctorate of Laws honoris causa from York University, and she also received the University Medal from the University of Montreal. Until her appointment to the bench, she was a vice president of the Canadian Liberties Association.