Oration | Address to Convocation
Madam Justice Louise Arbour has a distinguished record in the legal profession, most particularly in the area of human rights.
Justice Arbour received her bachelor's degree from Quebec's College Regina Assumpta in 1967 and her law degree 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.
Her first employment was as law clerk for the Honourable Mr. Justice Louis-Philippe Pigeon, Supreme Court of Canada. From 1972-73, she was research officer for the Law Reform Commission of Canada. In 1974, she joined the faculty of Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, serving as assistant then associate professor, and as associate dean in 1987. She was also vice-president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association from 1985-1987.
She was appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario (High Court of Justice) in 1987, and to the Court of Appeal for Ontario in 1990. In 1995, Justice Arbour was appointed as commissioner to conduct an inquiry into certain events at the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario.
Between October 1996 and September 1999, she was the United Nations' Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. She resigned this position when she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where she still sits today.
Throughout her academic and judicial career, Justice Arbour has published extensively in both French and English in the area of criminal procedure, criminal law, human rights, civil liberties and gender issues. She also has served as an editor for the Criminal Reports, the Canadian Rights Reporter, and the Osgoode Hall Law Journal.
She has received honorary degrees from York University (1995), University of Ottawa (1997), University of New Brunswick (1999), Laurentian University (1999), Université du Québec à Montréal (1999), and the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Oration honouring Louise Arbour
Jean Guthrie, University Orator
"Never again," they said at Nuremberg in 1947, concluding the investigation of Nazi atrocities against those who could be labelled: Jewish, Roma, mentally ill, homosexual. But labels have continued to be fatal: Serb and Kosovar; Hutu and Tutsi. In Rwanda a hundred days of mutilations, burnings, beheadings; parents murdered in front of children; children raped in front of parents; then the reprisals. In the former Yugoslavia, the rule of terror, bombed cities, rape, mass slaughter and thousands in flight. Taking account of the last 10 years, our graduates in nursing and business are already asking which words the term global might keep company with, other than disaster and dysfunction. And what better answer than the work of Madame Justice Louise Arbour, who has shown the world a global conscience, a passion for the rule of law as a global value, and the grit to take on challenges of profound global significance?
She did not seek international celebrity. She taught criminal law at Osgoode Hall, and served as a justice of the Ontario Supreme Court, then its Appeals Court, all with great distinction. Especially alert to the rights of those accused or convicted of crime, she argued for giving prisoners the right to vote, and as chair of an investigation into the strip-searching of women prisoners at Kingston in 1994, she powerfully denounced prison officials' lack of respect for the women's physical safety, privacy, and dignity. What better touchstones for the chief prosecutor sought by the UN Security Council in 1996 for its International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia? She was cast in her new role.
She knew toughness was a requirement, not least in dealings with the Security Council, but certainly with the colossal evidence of the evil that had shattered Yugoslavia: 150 mass graves, 900 prison camps, 90 paramilitary groups. But her first gesture was to set aside numbers and abstractions and visit a grave at Vukovar in Croatia. The dead had been flung in head-first. She thought of the men as sons, imagined their mothers' anguish, and committed herself to having their stories told. Later she would visit the hamlet of Celine in Kosovo to mourn with survivors the 21 dead, 18 of them women and children, shot by anonymous thugs in ski-masks. Throughout her tenure, her vigorous strategic quest to frame indictments for the campaigns of torture and massacre was sustained by her empathy for the powerless, the terrorized, the bereaved.
In the political push and pull, Canada's Québecoise bilangue with the sharp wit was quick to learn players, codes, tactics. At The Hague, she found a highly skilled staff but despite many indictments, few detainees, and those not from the top of the command chain. Meanwhile security forces were not being required by their governments to bring in the indicted, so Karadzic, Mladic et al. could flaunt their freedom. The problems of the Rwandan investigation were of a different order - the constraints of trying cases in the state capital when the government was itself guilty of retaliation; computers and phones that didn't work; official cars taking holidays out of town; a shortage of court staff; wretched housing for detainees; and so many detained that their hearings would have taken about a century to complete.
Arbour refused to be overwhelmed. She established the tribunal's authority over national governments who were not co-operating. She stopped publicizing the names of the indicted and nabbed them with swat teams instead. She began to use public events and the media to raise the profile of the tribunal. After she negotiated large changes in personnel and in budget for it, the Rwandan court heard the first admission of guilt for genocide committed by a head of state, Jean Kambanda, against his citizens; and the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu was the first to define rape as an act of genocide. In 1999, she won respect by publicly reminding NATO members during the bombing that their pilots, though invisible to Belgrade, were registering on her moral radar. And as one of her last acts as chief prosecutor, she brilliantly timed and finessed her grand slam, the indictment of the notorious butcher Milosevic.
Now at the Supreme Court of Canada, Madame Justice Arbour is continuing to argue the right of the accused to be respectfully questioned by police, critiquing customs law on pornography for infringing rights, and bringing the power of her insight to the public debate which is charting the world's next judicial venture, the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Chancellor, in recognition of the wisdom, intellect and courage which have set precedents in humanitarian law, increased the accountability of states and leaders for their crimes, made the globe safer for the vulnerable, and made Canada proud, please confer the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on Louise Arbour.
Address to convocation
by Dr. Louise Arbour
It is a great honour for me to be recognized at this 2001 convocation of Memorial University. Convocation is not only a celebration of the achievements of the past, represented by the young men and women who are graduating today and by their parents, friends and mentors who stood by them to guide the way, but it is also a celebration of the ongoing achievements of Memorial University's students, faculty, alumni and staff. And we are here also to reaffirm our hope for the future, a hope founded on the best of our collective accomplishments and on the promise of our work in progress.
I receive this honour with a sense of profound gratitude towards many people whose professionalism and dedication I very much admire. The work I did in Europe and in Africa, in particular, was done as part of a team of lawyers, investigators, analysts, interpreters, and human rights activists committed to bringing the Rule of Law to areas of the world where the rule of force had remained unchallenged, in the face of unspeakable abuses of power, and despicable abuses of the privilege of leadership.
I must confess that an occasion like this one allows me to put the work that I have done in the international arena in perspective, and it provides me with an opportunity to think out loud about the incredible progress that has been made, in the last decade, in fact in the last five years, in the field of human rights on the international scene. I therefore feel that I should speak to you today in two capacities: as a jurist, and as an optimist. Celebrations of accomplishments, such as today's, are so an occasion to reflect broadly on the duty, and the privilege of making a contribution - a contribution that is often more within our reach than we realize, and when it is not, is always worth the extra distance.
For three years, from 1996 to 1999, my colleagues and I have dealt, on a daily basis in The Hague, in Arusha and in Kigali, with some of the worst excesses of intolerance, of injustice, and of abuse of power. Despite the occasional set back, the skepticism and, worse, in my view, the widespread indifference that often surrounded our work, I cannot remember an environment more nurtured by commitment, determination and hope.
Particularly in light of that unique experience, I cannot claim much of a calm intellectual detachment when I speak to you briefly about justice. Not a millennium too soon, we stand at a critical moment in the development of fundamental concepts of justice as they relate to human rights, particularly on the international scene, where we anticipate the establishment of an effective international court of criminal jurisdiction. The past half-decade has witnessed more positive incentives towards enforcing human rights than the last half-century. Fifty years after the advent of the UN Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights, 50 years also after the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, this new era is marked by the dramatic passage from declaring rights to enforcing rights. This effort is focussed on enforcing the most basic and fundamental human rights: the right to life, to physical integrity, and to be protected from rape, torture and extermination. The immense progress in the implementation of international humanitarian law, "the law of war" as it is better known, stems essentially from the leading international instruments of the second half of what we must now call the last century. Notable milestones include the 1945 Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters, from which the concept of crimes against humanity emerged; the 1948 Genocide Convention; the1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols in 1977; as well as several other instruments targeting the elimination of discrimination and torture. In articulating, codifying and enshrining fundamental human rights, international justice, in this stage,took on a mostly "declaratory quality." But the impact of these declaratory instruments cannot be minimized. The basic tenets of human rights were established, and served as a model for many national adoptions of codes and charters of rights often accompanied, domestically, by very strong enforcement mechanisms. This certainly has been true of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional milestone that has changed forever both the perception and the reality of justice in Canadian society.
Judicial bodies provide a forum for truth telling, for the simple affirmation of a reality sometimes so brutal that the human mind could otherwise be forgiven for suppressing it, or for inventing half plausible rationalizations that could serve to dilute or to reassign the blame. Yet it is very much our collective mission, in part the link that binds us together, to understand our past as we embrace our future. There is no better time for Canadians to become global citizens, democrats in a world in which we could be tempted to view ourselves as an aristocracy. Without painting an unduly romantic self image of Canadians as citizens of the world, I do believe that largely because of and through our differences, we are exporters of ideas and of ideals, committed to leave no one behind as we embrace a future enriched, rather than mortgaged by the past.
I also believe that those of you who are graduating today will continue to make us proud in the years to come and that you will distinguish yourselves by your industry, your innovation, your courage and your leadership. The new millennium is in very good hands indeed. The skills that you have acquired here will provide challenges and offer rewards of all kinds. But your professional accomplishments will never be the only measure of your worth. I wish the good fortune of working, as I have, with courageous people who stand for something. The Office of the Prosecutor of the two International Criminal Tribunals, for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, faced many challenges, some widely publicized. Crossing hostile borders, getting access to classified information, persuading reluctant politicians about our budgetary needs and other forms of assistance were probably some of the most obvious. But there were other, more subtle challenges, where success was measured against other values. There were over 500 of us, coming from more than 60 countries. Whatever skills we had mastered at home were not always relevant or exportable. We worked without the benefit of precedent, without a blueprint, and nobody got to do it all his way, all the time.
The ability to see another's point of view, to understand the frustrations of the many who were required to work in a second or even a third language, struggling with perceived shortcomings, were major assets that naturally placed people in positions of leadership. Canadians do well in that environment.
You should rightly view this new millennium as one in which you can and should leave your individual and collective marks. Your are, in effect, the beneficiaries of a mixed and ambivalent inheritance. On the one hand, you must recognize the immense progress that has been made, for example, in improving the quality of life in this and other industrialized countries and your duty as guardians of the many accomplishments and successes of the preceding generations. On the other hand, I know that you are alive to the enormous challenges that remain to be met and the responsibility that falls to you and those of your generation to continue to improve the local, national and international communities of which you are members.
While it is only natural to worry about career choices and, more broadly, the future. I wish you the good fortune of being given the opportunity to contribute your great and demonstrated talents to endeavours that will bring you rewards and satisfaction. As you enter the labour market, where there is an unavoidable tendency to measure your performance by the income that you can generate, I urge you to pause occasionally to take the only meaningful account of your professional life. I urge you to measure whether there is a trade surplus or a trade deficit between what you really want to accomplish, both professionally and personally, and the concession that you will have to make to get there. Together with your families, your friends and your mentors, I look forward to your many accomplishments in the years to come, and to the many brave and courageous deeds that are unlikely to bring you either fame or fortune, but that will often bring rewards in most unexpected and satisfying ways.
Mr. Chancellor, thank you for welcoming me into the community of Memorial University.
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