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Ex-U.N. rights chief gets mixed review

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A United Nations watchdog gave mixed reviews to the former U.N. human rights commissioner.

The U.N. Watch’s review of Louise Arbour’s 2004-08 term says her critics and defenders alike tended to hyperbole.

For example, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) once called the Canadian judge a “disgrace” and said, “While genocide rages in Darfur and political dissidents are tortured in Iran, she chooses to spend her time condemning democracies and defending tyrants.”

In fact, a thorough assessment of Arbour’s statements – reflecting her only power, to expose abuses through criticism – showed her to be a consistent critic of Sudan and its abuses in Darfur, U.N. Watch reported, and an occasional critic of Iran.

Arbour chose not to stay for a second term in part because of criticism from Ros-Lehtinen, the powerful ranking member on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and the U.S. State Department that she tended to criticize the United States and Israel at the expense of real abusers.

On the other hand, claims by her defenders that she challenged abusers great and small also were unfounded, U.N. Watch reported. Citing Amnesty International’s praise of Arbour as “unflinching,” it noted that she criticized China only once, never criticized Russia and ignored other abuser states, including Algeria, Belarus, Burkina Faso and North Korea.

U.N. Watch was critical of Arbour’s stated approach of pressing some nations behind the scenes and others more directly.

“Naming and shaming is a loser’s game,” she said once.

U.N. Watch countered, “Bearing neither the power of the purse nor of the sword, the U.N.’s top human rights official must make use of her unique bully pulpit to name and shame violators, throwing a spotlight on their abuses.”

Arbour, who stepped down in June, will be replaced by Navanethem Pillay, a South African judge.

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