Reaction in South Africa
has been positive to Navi Pillay's expected approval as the next UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights. For example, a former colleague, Durban attorney
Zubeda Seedat, talks about Pillay's early years as a practicing human rights
used to go regularly to Robben Island (prison) to meet with (Nelson) Mandela
and the other people that were incarcerated there. And won some landmark cases
on human rights matters. She was always very involved in human rights matters….
We were all subjected to separate laws and all the apartheid machinery. And so
that must have had a profound impact on her. And I think she is ideally suited
for the job that she is now going to take after she finishes at …the
International Criminal Court at The Hague," Seedat says.
what the early years as an attorney might have taught Pillay, she says, "I
think it must have left an indelible imprint on her mind of how important it
was to pursue these laws and to pursue justice and to fight for justice…. The
other thing that she was very involved was in the pursuit of gender crimes…. At
a local level she was involved in starting a desk for abused women and giving
them advice…. We didn't have domestic violence laws at that time, but she was
quick enough to see that there was a great need to assist women."
Pillay and Seedat are women of color, adding another obstacle during the
apartheid years. "It was difficult, but we doggedly went on with it because we
knew that our leaders were incarcerated and there was work to be done. So we
just went on doing it. It was difficult. We had the security branch…against us,
but there was a commitment to see it through. And she indeed has that
commitment. And I can see her in this role now and not shying away from matters
that are important. She will be very forthright and able to take a stand on
issues," says Seedat.
says Judge Pillay has a very dry sense of humor and is gracious but is also a
no nonsense, no frills individual.
praising Pillay is Jody Kollapen, the head of South Africa's Human Rights
a South African I'm very excited and honored that a South African will hold the
position. But as a human rights activist and at the head of the South African
Human Rights Commission, I am deeply excited that someone with a commitment to
human rights, with a commitment to equality, will be holding that post as well.
So, yes, I think that we're all quite pleased," he says.
comments on whether it matters if the UN human rights chief is a person of
think in the broader scheme of things it doesn't make such a big difference
because she is going to be really doing the work at an international level. And
I think her color and agenda shouldn't be a factor insofar as her work over the
years and her current commitment have demonstrated an ability on her part
certainly to be able to relate to human rights in the broadest possible sense.
But at the same time I think many South Africans of color would be pleased even
more so in that it's a demonstration that our own transformation as a nation on
attempts to deal with the legacy of our own past is playing itself out in this
wonderful way," he says.
The head of South Africa's Human
Rights Commission says he expects Pillay take on such issues as Darfur, Sri
Lanka and the Middle East. He also expects her to address the food crisis and
global warming and how they may affect human rights.