The appointment of „Navi“ Pillay as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was approved by the General Assembly on 28 July 2008 and she held the post until 31 August 2014 after her mandate was renewed for two years in 2012.
Ms. Pillay, a South African national, was the first woman to start a law practice in her home province of Natal in 1967. Over the next few years, she acted as a defence attorney for anti-apartheid activists, exposing torture, and helping establish key rights for prisoners on Robben Island.
She also worked as a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and was later appointed Vice-President of the Council of the University of Durban Westville. In 1995, after the end of apartheid, Ms. Pillay was appointed as acting judge of the South African High Court, and in the same year was elected by the UN General Assembly to sit as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), where she served a total of eight years, the last four (1999-2003) as President. She played a critical role in the ICTR’s groundbreaking jurisprudence on rape as genocide, as well as on issues of freedom of speech and hate propaganda.
In 2003, she was appointed as a judge of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where she served in the Appeals Chamber until August 2008. In April 2015, Ms. Pillay became the 16th Commissioner of the International Commission against the Death Penalty. She was also named chair of the Special Reference Group on Migration and Community Integration in KwaZulu-Natal, a group formed to investigate the immediate and underlying causes of attacks on migrants.
In South Africa, as a member of the Women‘s National Coalition, she contributed to the inclusion of the equality clause in the country’s Constitution that prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. She co-founded Equality Now, an international women‘s rights organisation, and has been involved with other organisations working on issues relating to children, detainees, victims of torture and domestic violence, and a range of economic, social and cultural rights.
Ms. Pillay holds a B.A. LL.B. from Natal University South Africa, as well as a Master of Law and Doctorate of Juridical Science from Harvard University. She was born in 1941, and has two daughters.