100 World Class South Africans: Navi Pillay

2013-06-18 12:03

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Voice of the victims

Consider an average week of news reports – the sheer amount of trouble happening on our planet.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay keeps an eagle eye on it all.

Whether natural disaster or war or an event like the Arab Spring, it’s her business to find out what’s happening to ordinary people. Her decisions are literally life or death ones.

She was appointed to her present office in 2008 (on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), after serving as judge-president of the Rwanda war crimes tribunal. Back in 1967, Pillay was the first woman to open a law practice in then-Natal.

She was later the first South African to get a doctorate in law from Harvard.

Representing political activists, Pillay exposed torture tactics used by apartheid security police.

Yet the first time she was allowed to enter a judge’s chambers, as a black person, was when she had been made a High Court judge by Mandela.

She contributed to an equality clause in the Constitution and co-founded Equality Now, an international women’s rights organisation.

She’s been on the Forbes list of the Most Powerful Women in the World – but justice and a better life for all, not fame and fortune, are Pillay’s goals.

‘Today I have the opportunity and the power to work on a larger scale and I get great satisfaction from that,’ she told the Leuven International Forum in 2012.

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