Indian-origin judge to head rights panel

Navanethem Pillay, nominated as High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Navanethem Pillay, nominated as High Commissioner for Human Rights.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: AFP

United Nations: Indian-origin ICC judge Navanethem Pillay has been named the United Nations’ new human rights chief, despite some initial opposition from the U.S.

Ms. Pillay (67), who is from South Africa, will succeed Louise Arbour of Canada who completed her term on June 30.

The job of Human Rights Commissioner is both high profile and controversial as member States are very sensitive to their respective records.

Ms. Arbour had annoyed Islamic countries as also some western nations by her outspoken statements.

The 192-member General Assembly is expected to confirm Ms. Pillay’s appointment for a four-year term on Monday. Ms. Arbour said she did not intend to seek a second term.

Born into an ethnic Tamil family during apartheid days, she was brought up in a poor neighbourhood and had to face discrimination. Her father was a bus driver.

Despite odds, she became the first woman to start law practice in South Africa’s Natal Province in 1968 and defended several anti-apartheid activists and successfully fought for the right of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers.

Officials and diplomats at the U.N. said the U.S. had at one stage opposed her nomination because of her views on abortion and some other issues as also South Africa’s opposition to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. But it finally gave the go ahead which led U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon to announce the appointment on Thursday.

A Harvard alumna, Ms. Pillai is serving as a judge on the International Criminal Court in The Hague since 2003.

She had earlier served both as judge and president on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which she had joined in 1995.

Landmark decisions

As a judge of the Rwanda tribunal, Ms. Pillay led the landmark decisions defining rape as an institutionalised weapon of war and a crime of genocide. In Early 1970s, she helped expose torture and illegal interrogation methods.

She earned Masters of Law degree from Harvard in 1982, her second law degree, and Doctor of Judicial Sciences in 1988. In 1992, she co-founded Equality Now which works for women’s rights across the world. In 2003 she received the inaugural Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights. — PTI

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