The chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Tribunal for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia inherited a body that had little credibility among rights activists. Based in The Hague with an annual budget of pounds 30m, it had court rooms, translators and 12 judges but hardly anyone in the dock. Acutely aware of mounting frustration at delays in arresting indicted war criminals, Ms Arbour promised tougher action.
"There is no single issue more important to the survival of this tribunal than the actual arrest of indicted war criminals," she said before her appointment. She likened the prosecution of war criminals to a long-term investment, where the initial saving is painful but there is faith in the long-term pay-off.
Ms Arbour, 52, was convent educated in French-speaking Quebec. She has a long history of championing civil rights. As vice-president of Canada's Civil Liberties Association she fought for the right of convicts to vote and uncovered abuses against female prisoners. She sat on the Ontario Supreme Court and taught law at York University, Toronto.
Although passionate about her work, she is tough and unsentimental. "You don't spend a lot of time sobbing," she said in one interview on her job at the tribunal. "It takes everything you have, every spare moment."
She may never see Mr Milosevic in the courtroom. Canada is keen to have her back and the Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, has put her on the shortlist to join the country's supreme court.