Outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour delivered her last speech to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva this week and not only praised recent changes that have enabled United Nations (UN) human rights monitors to more closely scrutinize sovereign states, but also called for new mechanisms further strengthening a system often used to promote abortion.During Arbour’s stint as High Commissioner, she retooled human rights treaty monitoring bodies. In the four years since Arbour took the helm, each of the treaty bodies responsible for monitoring state compliance with their obligations under various human rights treaties has become increasingly critical of laws restricting abortion.
Homosexual rights groups had praised Arbour’s appointment to the post of High Commissioner. In 2006, Arbour gave the opening address at the international homosexual rights conference and encouraged conference-goers “to make greater use of the international human rights institutions, ultimately for the benefit of the greater number of rights-holders,” urging non-governmental organizations “to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their agenda and to partner with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered [LGBT] NGOs to advocate better protection of human rights for everyone.”
Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, has long been an advocate for homosexual rights. Most recently, she has vocally supported the controversial Yogyakarta Principles, a document that seeks to reinterpret existing and established human rights to include same-sex unions and gay adoption. At the New York launch of the Yogykarata Principles last October, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a statement in support of the document and Arbour reiterated her “firm commitment of her Office to promote and protect the human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Arbour’s statement put discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” on the same level as other established discrimination categories such as race and religion – a move that raised eyebrows, as the term “sexual orientation” has never been accepted in any binding negotiated UN document.
Canadian social conservatives were happy to see Arbour leave her position as a Canadian Supreme Court Justice when she took up the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During her time on the Canadian Supreme Court, Arbour ruled in favor of the legalization of lap-dancing and granting common-law cohabitants the same legal benefits as married couples. In a dissenting opinion, Arbour also would have ruled in favor of a total criminalization of all spanking of children by their parents.
Apart from serving as a Canadian Supreme Court Justice, Arbour was also the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Although eligible to run for a second term as High Commissioner on Human Rights, Arbour will step down at the end of June. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has yet to name Arbour’s successor.