25 July :Indian-origin ICC judge Navanethem Pillay has been named the United Nations’ new human rights chief, despite some initial opposition from the US.
Pillay, 67, who is from South Africa, will succeed Louise Arbour of Canada who completed her term on 30th June.
The job of human rights commissioner is both high profile and controversial as member States are very sensitive to their respective records. Arbour too had annoyed Islamic countries as also some western nations by her outspoken statements.
The 192-member General Assembly is expected to confirm Pillay’s appointment for a four-year term on Monday. The search for new human rights commissioner started when Arbour said she does not intend to seek a second term.
Born into an ethnic Tamil family during apartheid days she was brought up in a poor neighbourhood and had the taste of discrimination. Her father was a bus driver.
Despite odds, she became the first woman to start law practice in South Africa’s Natal Province in 1968 and defended several anti-apartheid activists and successfully fought for the right of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers.
Officials and diplomats at the UN said the US had at one stage opposed her nomination because of her views on abortion and some other issues as also South Africa’s opposition to impose sanction on Zimbabwe. But it finally gave the go ahead which led UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon to announce the appointment on Thursday.
A Harvard alumna, Pillai is serving as a judge on the International Criminal Court in the Hague since 2003. She had earlier served both as judge and president on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which she had joined in 1995.
Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters that the decision was taken after "an extensive selection process" which included consultations with member States and with broad-based non-governmental organisations.
As a judge of the Rwanda tribunal, Pillay led the landmark decisions defining rape as an institutionalised weapon of war and a crime of genocide.
In Early 1970s, she helped expose torture and illegal interrogation methods.
Pillay earned Master of Law degree from Harvard in 1982, her second law degree, and Doctor of Judicial Sciences in 1988.
In 1992, she co-founded Equality Now which works women’s rights across the world. In 2003 she received the inaugural Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights.
A Geneva-based human rights watchdog has, meanwhile, urged Pillay to play more proactive role in bringing rights violations by various countries, including Russia and China, to forefront than her predecessor.
"We look forward to working with Judge Pillay in Geneva," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, an independent human rights monitoring organisation.
He urged Pillay to use her "unique bully pulpit" to throw a spotlight on the world’s worst violations, including in Darfur, Myanmar, China and Zimbabwe.
A UN Watch report on Arbour’s tenure to be released next week finds that her UN statements in 2007 and 2008 addressed violations by 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Nepal, Iraq, the U.S. and Sudan.
However, Arbour kept silent on "systematic violations" by Russia and Egypt, and issued only one statement on China, the report says.
"Because Pillay is from Africa," said Neuer, "we hope she will have the political leeway to go where some Westerners feared to tread."
Pillay also needs to serve as a counter to the UN Human Rights Council which is in a "dramatic, downward spiral," Neuer added.
In the past year, UN Watch says the council eliminated its protective mandates for victims in Cuba, Belarus, and Congo (DRC).
At its March and June sessions, the council imposed new curbs on freedom of speech in deference to Islamic sensitivities, altering its mandate on freedom of expression and restricting what NGOs can say during plenary debates.
Another resolution threatens retaliation against council experts who cite countries for violations.
"Pillay must vigorously defend the vital role at the council played by experts and human rights groups. The repressive regimes that dominate the council systematically harass NGOs, repeatedly interrupting them during debates," Neuer added.
Montas said the Secretary-General is committed to ensure 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," she added.
Courtsey DD NEWS