Mbeki lauds appointment of Judge Pillay to top UN position

July 31st, 2008 - 10:04 am ICT by IANS  

Mbeki lauds appointment of Judge Pillay to top UN position Pretoria, Jul 31 (IANS) South African President Thabo Mbeki Wednesday congratulated one of the country’s foremost legal minds, Judge Navanethem Pillay, a respected international jurist of Indian origin, on her appointment as the next United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Describing Judge Pillay as an outstanding South African who has devoted all her life to the struggle for justice, President Mbeki said: “I have no doubt that Navi will bring the same level of dedication and commitment to her work in this new and important capacity that she displayed in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as well as in the International Criminal Court.”

President Mbeki further noted that, “through her work Judge Pillay has become a respected international jurist who, amongst other things, has done pioneering work on the rights of women.”

“Indeed as South Africans we are also proud of the fact that Judge Pillay becomes the first African woman to occupy the position of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On behalf of the Government and people of South Africa I wish to express our appreciation to the UN Secretary-General as well as the UN General Assembly for Judge Pillay’s appointment,” concluded President Mbeki.

Pillay, popularly known as Navi, is a pioneering South African of Indian ancestry with a host of firsts to her name, as her brother Pullen Pillay puts it: “Navi has always been first at everything.”

These firsts for the daughter of a bus driver, born in the coastal city of Durban, included becoming the first woman to set up a law practice in the then province of Natal in 1967, when the legal fraternity was not only dominated by men, but lawyers who were not white also faced severe challenges in the apartheid era.

Pillay specialised in fighting the cause of those affected by their opposition to apartheid, and later became the first woman of colour to serve in the High Court. Turning her attention to women’s rights, Pillay also founded the New York-based Equality Now as well as being the co-founder of the Advice Desk for the Abused in Durban, which provided shelter to victims of domestic violence.

Pillay’s work for the political prisoners who were detained on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years, was also internationally lauded, especially her exposure of the torture methods used there and its effect on detainees with the combination of solitary confinement.

On the international front, Pillay made headlines as a judge in the International Criminal Tribunal in the wake of the Rwanda genocide in the 1980’s, playing a major role in defining rape as an institutionalised weapon of war and a crime of genocide.

The European Union has also welcomed Pillay’s appointment by the United Nations Secretary-General, saying in a statement that her track record would serve her well in her new position.

“The European Union is pleased to see the High Commissioner’s Office entrusted to a woman from the South, who has held the most senior posts in a number of international courts, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court, and has played a distinguished role in combating impunity”, the statement said.

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