National Post

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Friday, June 11, 1999

The timing of Judge Arbour's departure could hardly be worse for her successor

Charlie Gillis
National Post

The impending appointment of Justice Louise Arbour to the Supreme Court of Canada raises troubling questions about the future of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Who will take her job if she leaves? How will her departure affect cases now before the panel, including its investigation of war-crimes allegations in Kosovo? Can the UN find a replacement who combines Judge Arbour's singularity of purpose with her judicial background? "She's a very rare person and I expect it will be hard to fill her shoes," said Ed Morgan, a professor of international law at the University of Toronto who has helped prosecute war crimes cases in Canada. "She has both extensive legal experience and a lot of energy and that's an unusual combination. Judges typically aren't very activist. Most prefer to play the passive or inactive role they must assume on the bench." The most obvious potential successor is Graham Blewitt, an Australian who serves as deputy prosecutor on the tribunal and as Judge Arbour's second-in-command. With more than 20 years' experience as a prosecutor in Sydney, the 51-year-old offers strong background on one side of the bench. He is also familiar with the major files now before Judge Arbour, which include reported crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and the 1994 massacres in Rwanda. But the UN can pick from judiciaries around the world, and there are judges in several countries who have served as magistrates investigating war crimes. One well-versed -- if potentially controversial -- possibility is Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who indicted Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, and charged him with the deaths or disappearance of more than 3,000 people during his rule. "He's familiar with the legal terrain and he's shown that he's got the instinct and knowledge to prosecute international war crimes," said Prof. Morgan. Judge Arbour's departure could not come at a worse time for her replacement. Within two weeks, NATO troops assigned to clear Kosovo of landmines expect to have the region sufficiently secure for UN investigators. The new chief will then have to quickly familiarize himself with a complex portfolio that was his predecessor's signature initiative. And since Judge Arbour has opened the door to prosecuting NATO countries who bombed Kosovo, it could prove a tricky file indeed.

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