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Navi Pillay 


Navanethem (Navi) Pillay spent her childhood in Durban, South Africa. Encouraged by her mother, she graduated from Durban’s University of Natal with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1965, and later, in the late 1980’s, became the first South African to receive a Doctorate in juridical science in human rights from Harvard University. In 1967, Navi became the first woman of colour to open her own law practice in Natal Province (now KwaZulu-Natal). Throughout the 1970s, she represented abused women and opponents of the apartheid regime, and, notably, in 1973 succeeded in securing the right to legal representation for political prisoners. Alongside her legal practice, Navi founded the South African Advice Desk for Abused Women in Durban, ran a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, and launched Equality Now, an international women’s rights group. In addition, she was a member of the Women’s National Coalition, which ensured an equality clause prohibiting racial, religious and sex discrimination was included in South Africa’s Constitution. In 1995, she became the first non-white woman to be appointed a judge of the High Court in South Africa. That same year, she joined the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and was elected its President in 1999. Whilst on the Tribunal, she presided over cases which convicted the former Rwandan Prime Minister of crimes against humanity, and established rape in wartime as a form of genocide. In 2003, Navi became the first woman – and only South African – judge at the Appeals Division of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In 2008, Navi succeeded Louise Arbour as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a post which reflects the wealth of her experience as an attorney, eminent judge, and human rights campaigner. 

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