If Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had her druthers, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt would have been tried as war criminals, since countless civilians were killed by Allied bombing throughout Europe during the Second World War.
This is the eerie conclusion of Ms. Arbour's hasty and somewhat biased intervention in the war in Lebanon. A few days ago, she declared that "indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians," and condemned "the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians." And she warned that "this could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control."
By these standards, the war against the Nazis should be considered unjustifiable. Put aside the destruction of Dresden, a decision now widely denounced. Most cities under German control were bombed and many of their inhabitants killed, and so were sites of "military significance" such as bridges in populated towns, airports, factories and so on, and this is how, in part, that war was won. And what about the hundreds of civilian deaths caused by NATO's humanitarian mission in Kosovo?
Ms. Arbour was cautious not to openly take sides, but the subtext was very clear: Only Israel targets what its army believes (sometimes wrongly) are "military sites" (Hezbollah usually targets civilians); and the human casualties of Israeli bombings are much larger than those resulting from Hezbollah's attacks on Israel.
This makes Israel the culprit. The implication of Ms. Arbour's statement is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might follow Slobodan Milosevic in the dock at the International Criminal Court. (Ms. Arbour was once the chief prosecutor for the United Nations war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.)
The former Supreme Court of Canada judge didn't bother to explain what a country should do when it is attacked by terrorist groups that stockpile their arms in "ordinary" houses, launch their rockets from densely populated areas and generally use innocent civilians as human shields.
She didn't condemn Hezbollah's previous incursions across a UN-sanctioned international border. And she didn't condemn terrorism, which essentially targets civilians. Does sending explosive-strapped teenagers to kill other kids in Israeli pizzerias fit with Ms. Arbour's conception of human rights? Does she think a movement the stated aim of which is the annihilation of a country shows respect for human rights?
Is Ms. Arbour comfortable with the UN Human Rights Council, one of the organizations she oversees as high commissioner? The council is a recent reincarnation of the discredited Human Rights Commission (Libya was actually elected its chairman in 2003). In 2001, the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban turned into an ignominious circus dominated by vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The problem is, the new Human Rights Council doesn't seem much different from the old Human Rights Commission. It still includes such well-known human-rights champions as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Algeria. At the council's inaugural session in June, Israel was the only country officially castigated for violating human rights. The council's first "extraordinary session," on July 6, focused exclusively on Israel's operations in Gaza. A resolution, adopted 29-11, didn't mention that these operations were in response to a Hamas attack on Israeli soil a year after Israel had withdrawn from Gaza.
This is not exactly what Ms. Arbour had said when the council was created in February by the UN General Assembly. She declared then that "the council will be required to review on a periodic basis the human-rights record of all countries, beginning with its members." Obviously, a majority of council members had another agenda.
It will be interesting to see, in the coming months, whether Ms. Arbour is able to withstand this close companionship with a group devoted to the demonization of Israel.