U.N. court's top prosecutor faces a difficult decision

Louise Arbour may be offered a seat on Canada's Supreme Court

War In Yugoslavia

May 29, 1999|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

MONTREAL -- Louise Arbour, the United Nations' chief war crimes prosecutor who made history Thursday with the indictment of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, faces an agonizing personal and professional decision -- one the world is watching.

Next month, the 52-year-old Quebec-born judge, on leave from Ontario's Court of Appeals to serve with the United Nations tribunal, is likely to be offered a seat on Canada's Supreme Court.

Appointment to the nine-member high court is the honor of a lifetime, the greatest professional achievement to which any Canadian judge can aspire. If she passes on the opportunity now, it will likely be years before there is another vacancy and there is no guarantee she would be considered then.

But anxious human rights advocates warn the loss of the highly regarded Arbour could throw a monkey wrench into efforts to hold Milosevic's Serbian regime accountable for genocide and are urging her to stay with the tribunal. In the long run, they fear, the departure of the iron-willed, high-octane prosecutor might cripple the fledgling process of international prosecution of crimes against humanity.

"Her departure would be very, very bad news for the tribunal," said Stefanie Grant, director of programs for the New York-based Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights. "It's not only the loss of her tremendous talents, energy and focus, although that would be bad enough. The real concern is that her departure would slow the process, perhaps even drag it down."

At the least, many observers say her departure would effectively halt , the prosecutorial effort for months and even years as the United Nations casts about for a politically suitable replacement. Russia, which opposes the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, is expected to use its seat on the U.N. Security Council to block appointment of any proposed prosecutor from a NATO nation, such as Canada.

But sources in Canada's government and legal community, as well as media speculation, suggest Arbour is leaning strongly toward accepting the Supreme Court position, if it is offered.

On one hand, to have a Canadian serving in such a prominent and powerful post fits perfectly with the country's policy of international activism. But delaying appointment of a new justice to fill a Supreme Court position would hamper the high court's work, and likely become a major political controversy for the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

A decision by Arbour and Canada will have to be made soon because Justice Peter Cory is scheduled to retire next month.

Arbour, little given to public musings, has declined to deliver the verdict on her future. "I don't think it's fair to speculate on what I might or might not do with my life," she told the Toronto Star.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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