South African Woman Named Human Rights Commissioner for UN

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named South African judge Navanethem Pillay the UN high commissioner for human rights Thursday. She will serve a five-year term, replacing Louise Arbour, after her nomination is confirmed by the General Assembly Monday, reports the Washington Post.

The U.S. has accepted her nomination, despite initial objections to her vocal support for abortion access, according to BBC News. She co-founded the international women’s rights organization, Equality Now, and continues to support a woman’s access to abortion, contraceptives and reproductive freedom, according to the Associated Press.

Pillay is currently a judge at the International Criminal Court and has worked tirelessly in the past defending anti-apartheid activists in her native South Africa. She was the first woman to start a law practice in Natal Province in South Africa and also served as the first non-white woman to serve in the country’s High Court, according to BBC News.

“She has to be the voice for human rights, focus on the violations of human rights, speak clearly and focus world attention on the egregious violations of human rights that unfortunately still take place in many places around the world,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, reports the Associated Press. “We look forward to working with her.”


Washington Post 7/25/2008; Associated Press 7/25/2008; BBC News 7/25/2008

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