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UN Chief Narrows Search for New Human Rights Commissioner


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to name his new High Commissioner for Human Rights as early as this week. The new official will replace Louise Arbour who stepped down June 30 after serving a four-year term at the Geneva-based body. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has the inside track on the three top candidates.

VOA has learned that the U.N. chief has narrowed his list for the top U.N. human rights post to three candidates.

They are Navanethem Pillay, a black South African woman judge on the International Criminal Court, Hina Jilani, a female Pakistani lawyer and rights advocate, and Argentinean lawyer Juan Mendez who was tortured and detained as a political prisoner.

A panel, chaired by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and composed of some of Mr. Ban's closest advisors has led the search. In the interest of transparency, the secretary-general has been sharing his shortlist with diplomats, who have confirmed the names to VOA. Once Mr. Ban announces his pick, the candidate's name will be put before the General Assembly for formal approval.

The new human rights chief will be taking over from Canadian Judge, Louise Arbour, who said in March that she is leaving the post after one term to spend more time with her family.

Amnesty International's Senior Deputy Executive Director, Curt Goering, says whoever the new High Commissioner is they must possess certain qualities to carry out what he says is one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

"This has to be someone who is a person of the highest integrity and the highest possible international standing," he said. "Someone who should have a well-established record of advocacy on human rights issues, someone who is able to deal directly with governments in quiet diplomacy when that is called for, and when there are possibilities of achieving results through quiet discussions, but at the same time be prepared to be vocal and outspoken when that is called for. This person -- he or shee -- has to really be a human rights champion."

Former High Commissioner Louise Arbour's tenure has generally received high marks from human rights groups, but was attacked by many governments for her criticism of their rights records.

Israel came under fire for its military action against Palestinians and its war with Hezbollah in 2006 that killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians. Arbour cited China for its use of the death penalty and said the United States' war on terror was eroding the worldwide ban on torture.

Human Rights Watch's U.N. Advocacy Director Steve Crawshaw says the criticisms are a credit to the good work she has done.

"In broadest terms, we would say that we are very happy with what she has done, and the criticisms which have been leveled at her do indeed actually confirm the old cliché that the nature of the criticisms is a reminder of the toughness of the job and the fact that she did it well," he said.

Human rights groups say Arbour's successor will face a number of challenges, particularly in regard to the war on terror.

"The balance between the pursuit of security and the protection and upholding of fundamental human rights will be a major challenge," said Amnesty International's Curt Goering.

Advocates say the new High Commissioner must be independent of politics and able to address serious human rights abuses wherever they are happening and speak out without fear or favor.

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