New UN human rights chief takes up post

1 September 2008

Navanethem Pillay today began her duties as the top United Nations human rights official, taking over a growing office that now has 1,000 staff working in 50 countries.

Ms. Pillay, a renowned jurist from South Africa, was appointed the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in July by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She became the fifth High Commissioner since the office was created in 1993.

Since 2003, Ms. Pillay has served as Judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it is the first permanent independent court set up to try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prior to that, she served, as both Judge and President, on the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which she joined in 1995.

Her career as a human rights advocate began in her home country, where she made a name for herself as a grassroots lawyer who defended many anti-apartheid campaigners, according to a news release issued by her office.

In 1967, she became the first woman to start a law practice in South Africa's Natal Province, and in 1995, after the end of apartheid, she became the first black woman to be appointed a judge on the South African High Court.

A fervent supporter of women's rights, Ms. Pillay was one of the co-founders of the international non-governmental organization Equality Now, which campaigns for women's rights. She has also been involved on issues relating to children, detainees, victims of torture, and of domestic violence as well as a range of other economic, social and cultural rights.

The new High Commissioner succeeds Louise Arbour of Canada, who completed her term on 30 June.


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