Indian-origin woman named UN rights commissioner

July 25th, 2008 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, July 25 (IANS) Indian-origin South African judge Navanethem Pillay, born in Durban to a bus driver, has been appointed the new UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. Pillay, 67, is to succeed Louise Arbour of Canada who completed her five-year term June 30.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told the General Assembly his intention to appoint Pillay, who has served since 2003 as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Pillay was nominated after “an extensive selection process” which included consultations with member states and with the broad-based NGO community, Ban’s spokesperson said Thursday.

“The secretary-general is committed to ensuring that human rights remain high on the agenda of the organisation. He expects that the new high commissioner will preserve the independence of her office and will maintain effective working relations with the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council,” the spokesperson said.

Ban is “determined to fully support Pillay in carrying out her work, including with increased resources, as approved by the General Assembly”, the spokesperson added.

The high commissioner holds the rank of under-secretary general and coordinates human rights activities throughout the UN system and supervises the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Born in 1941 in a Tamil speaking family, Pillai became the first non-white woman judge to sit in South Africa’s highest court in 1995.

In a long and illustrious legal career over four decades, she first came into prominence in 1967 when she became the first woman to set up law practice in the Natal province of South Africa.

She defended many anti-apartheid activists and trade unionists. In 1973 she brought a successful application against the officer commanding Robben Island Prison, which enabled political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers.

Later, studying at Harvard, she earned a Master of Law degree in 1982 and and Doctor of Juridical Science in 1988.

Before her ICC assignment she served as a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and led the landmark decisions defining rape as an institutionalised weapon of war and a crime of genocide.

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