UN commissioner calls for freedom from want

By Noah Miller

Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour spoke at the Rozsa Centre this Tuesday.

The Consortium for Peace Studies, together with the social work faculty and the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership presented “A Conversation with Louise Arbour” as the opening address of the International Social Development Conference.

Arbour delivered a short speech to a crowd of 200, which was followed by a myriad of difficult questions on topics from the perception of Canada’s foreign policy on the world stage to the legitimacy of the UN Security Council.

Arbour began her study of law at the University of Montreal and was called to the bar in both Ontario and Quebec. She began her academic career in 1974 and by 1987 was appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario.

“I just followed my interests and took the opportunities that came to me day to day,” said Arbour.

In 1995, Arbour conducted an inquiry into the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario. In 1996, the Security Council of the UN appointed Arbour as Chief Prosecutor in the international tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, where she indicted Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslavian president.

“All of these positions have given her a varied and wide perspective on issues of social development,” said U of C communication and culture professor Dr. Maureen Hiebert “She is intimately familiar with the legal foundation for human rights in a developed nation like Canada based on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as international formulations of human rights in, for example, the UN Declaration on Human Rights.”

“We have in a sense betrayed the original fundamental premise of the universal declaration of human rights,” said Arbour. “I think the Western world has been very preoccupied with freedom from fear, particularly in the last decade in which [there has been a] disproportionate preoccupation with our security.”

After returning to Canada, Arbour found herself on the Supreme Court of Canada and in 2007 received the Order of Canada.

She was recently named President of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict in some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories.

“For millions of men and children in the world, their perception of their profound insecurities is nothing [compared] to the fear of terrorism, or crime or war,” said Arbour. “But on a day-to-day basis, they understand that their most profound insecurities come from fears of dying from diseases that are preventable elsewhere and treatable elsewhere.”

Arbour ended the speech quoting from Roosevelt’s dream of a world with “freedom from fear and freedom from want.”

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