The importance of being Navi Pillay
Posted on June 19th, 2012
Navanethem or Navi Pillay certainly does have a colorful career record. An attorney for over 30 years, the first black woman from South Africa to obtain a doctorate in Law from Harvard and winning numerous accolades and honorary titles for her contribution towards human rights she may be compared to Rosa Parks and admired but holding titles becomes immaterial if despite one’s own harsh background one is not able to place fact from fiction and right from wrong. It is in using one’s international office to take on the challenges that exist balance the law against what is fair and unfair that makes a person respected and not simply because a General Assembly unanimously votes you for a second term because politicians generally think of their own survival only.
A Tamil, born into a poor South Durban neighborhood in South Africa in 1941, despite Pillay’s father being a bus driver, Pillay graduated from the University of Natal in 1963, received an LLB in 1965, attended Harvard Law School and obtained an LLM in 1982 and a Doctor of Juridical Science in 1988. She married Gaby Pillay, a lawyer in January 1965. Navi and Gaby have 2 daughters Isvari Pather and Kamini Pillay.
She began practicing law and became the first woman to open her own law practice in 1967 because law firms would not employ her since she was not white. Belonging to the apartheid regime of South Africa, Pillay was denied from entering the judge’s chambers though she went on to become the first non-white woman on the High Court of South Africa. She was also the first black woman attorney appointed acting judge of the South African Supreme Court. In 2003 she was elected by the UN General Assembly to be one of 18 judges of the ICC going on to become the President of the Tribunal for Rwanda.
She is also honorary chair of Equality Now, she serves on the Board of Directors for Nozala Investments, she hold key positions with Women Lawyers Association, Advise desk for Abused Women, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Women’s National Coalition, Black Lawyers Association as well as lecturing on legal, human rights, social and gender issues. In recognizing her work she has received the IBA for outstanding international woman lawyer from the National Bar Association. She was elected honorary member of the American Society of International Law.
Like it or not, human rights has become the international norm and the driving force of “intervention”. It is has been cunningly crafted into a doctrine known as “Responsibility to Protect” which advocates humanitarian intervention, implying powerful countries can deem it legal to “invade” nations if “they” feel that the leaders of those nations are not looking after its people. Leaders of small, less powerful nations with limited military capability but unlimited natural and geographical advantage need to be more than alert for their nations will end up on that “target” list of intervention.
In 2008 Navi Pillay was nominated by Ban ki-Moon to succeed controversial figure of Louise Arbour as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has been unanimously re-elected to continue as the UN human rights chief by the General Assembly including Sri Lanka despite a barrage of accusations against her. Such is the reality of politics where sanity seems to be less of the norm and diplomacy means simply raising one’s hand in agreement with the rest. So whatever hue and cry we have made against Navi Pillay’s stance on Sri Lanka becomes irrelevant because Sri Lanka’s Government has agreed with the rest that she is the best person to continue. Let us recall Sri Lanka also agreed that Ban Ki-Moon should be voted in for another term as well. So much for all the fuss made over him!
The stand that we take is that a person holding an important role such as Ms. Pillay needs to be more alert about the affairs of the world far more than the statistics issued from various organs of the UN that relies of private bodies that share no desire for fairness or impartiality. Relying on recommendations, statements and verifications from these bodies is tantamount to asking what happened to the gold from the thief.
Whilst we don’t expect miracles to happen from the United Nations which is more or less a private corporation funded by banking elites where over half of its funds are disbursed towards its own staff rather than eliminating poverty, solving housing, water, education or human rights in the absence of any alternative we need to exert pressure that officials chosen to head key positions do their job given that they have the mandate and they have the laws in places to take action. When they do not take action when they can it simply foretells that they have either been instructed not to or they have a different agenda altogether.
All of the misfortunes that have taken place resulting in enormous amounts of deaths and suffering could have been avoided if officials did their role. We all know that the weapons of mass destruction was a sham but how many visits did UN weapons instructors make to Iraq just to keep up the sham? We know that the oil-for-food program ended up with egg thrown at the UN. There are so many other misadventures within the UN system which are generally swept under the carpet and all whistleblowers are generally terminated from holding office for different reasons.
Generally, it takes two to start a fight that was in the old days but chivalry was such that even the victor respected the defeated. Today, there is no requirement for an aggressor since a group of nations sees fit to reign terror as they please upon nations having spent years laying the foundations and waiting for the correct moment to strike.
The UN human rights chief cannot deny she is not aware of the true state of affairs that exist and how nations are engulfed and enveloped into conflicts which are not of their own doing. The UN human rights head has to be aware that the “rebels” of Libya were no rebels, she has to also be aware that the “rebels” of Syria are no rebels either. She cannot also deny that US/NATO are using “all necessary means” to arm these mercenaries and why does her office not stop such crimes from taking place. Since when has nations been allowed to arm people to oust leaders? What if such took place in these powerful nations?
Similarly, she cannot deny knowledge of India’s role in Sri Lanka’s conflict. India does not feel shy or embarrassed to openly declare it trained, armed and financed LTTE since 1980s why has no action been taken or initiated against India “”…” does this not constitute a crime against Sri Lanka.
Where are her statements against the LTTE? Why does she say nothing about LTTE’s abduction of children, turning them into child combatants, denying children education”¦she should know the value of education herself coming from a poor home but climbing up to become where she is. As a Tamil, she should have felt empathy towards these innocent Tamil children whose homes were in the jungles and pens were nothing but guns! Instead of saying anything against the LTTE, Ms. Pillay critics the appointment of Shavendra Silva to the advisory panel on peace keeping as “unfair and unethical”. Yet, since the Sri Lankan Government has gone on to nominate Ms. Pillay for a second term it is pointless faulting her for past deeds with LTTE now no more.
Nevertheless, what needs to be reiterated that respect from the masses will come when statements issued from the office of the Human Rights head takes issues impartially and fairly. The UN HR head cannot be ignorant of the activities that the US, its allies and NATO are involved in. Ms. Pillay cannot claim to be ignorant of the NATO air strikes specifically targeting civilian infrastructure and essential services throughout Bosnia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan”¦.all these strikes have resulted in irreparable damage and has affected civilians adversely not to mention the cultural heritage it has destroyed. These are all tantamount to war crimes and what we like to know is why is Ms. Pillay reluctant to take on the US, UK, France, the rest of the allies and NATO for their actions on innocent people. Simply adopting a statement covering “we appeal to both parties”¦” just does not mean a thing to those who are suffering as a result of the targeted attacks by these aggressive nations. Tragedies like Rwanda could have been averted but the world allowed and watched scores of humans perish and Ms. Pillay ironically was the President of that Rwanda Tribunal. Justice will never make up for the deaths that could have been stopped.
It is in taking a stand against these aggressors that Ms. Pillay, her office and even the UN will win the respect of the masses. As of now we are extremely disappointed because it is generally the victims that end up being accused of the UN’s most favored words “war crimes” “crimes against humanity”.
We do not deny that Ms. Pillay has despite the odds or rather against the odds has made a name for herself and she has certainly made her mark as a woman yet what would make her respected and admired is if she can act fairly and impartially and weigh the right against the wrongs and the truth against fiction because what is told to us by the media manipulated and funded by a select group is not what is taking place in reality. This is the message that needs to be relayed to people who are brainwashed into believing lies and falsehoods. It is solely due to the unfairness and bias within the halls of the UN that it stands accountable for dividing the UN General Assembly into two wings that will end up creating the next catastrophe unless officials put their heads together and start doing their role without political bias!