U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Receives 2012 ABA Rule of Law Award
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem (Navi) Pillay was honored Oct. 10 with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative 2012 Rule of Law Award for her dedication and commitment to advancing human rights worldwide.
“I am deeply touched by this award from the ABA,” Pillay said. “My experience in South Africa led me to the only conclusion possible, which is that the rule of law, without reference to a set of core values expressed in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms, is meaningless and could lead to a possibility of legitimizing a wide range of human rights violations through the prism of legality.”
Pillay was the first woman to start a law firm in South Africa’s Natal Province, providing legal defense for opponents of apartheid. She exposed the practice of torture and solitary confinement of detainees held in police custody and successfully established the rights of prisoners on Robben Island.
The ceremony featured remarks from ABA President-Elect James R. Silkenat and former ABA President Stephen N. Zack, chair of ABA ROLI.
Before being appointed to her U.N. post in July 2008, Pillay served as a judge with the International Criminal Court and as a judge president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She helped develop groundbreaking laws on rape as genocide and worked on freedom of speech and hate propaganda issues.
Pillay co-founded the Advice Desk for the Abused and ran a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She was an attorney of the High Courts of South Africa from 1967–1995 and became acting judge of the High Courts in 1995.
As a member of the Women’s National Coalition, Pillay worked to include an equality clause in South Africa’s Constitution that prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation.
The Rule of Law Award was established in 1994 to honor leaders, and the countries they represent, who have taken significant steps toward implementing democratic and market reforms in their nations.
Recipients of the Rule of Law Award include a spectrum of individuals and groups from around the world that have demonstrated an uncommon vision, courage and perseverance in promoting the rule of law. Recent award recipients include Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first woman president, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and former Philippines Chief Justice Hilario Davide.
The ABA Rule of Law Initiative is an international development program that promotes the rule of law by working with in-country partners to build sustainable institutions and societies that deliver justice, foster economic opportunity and ensure respect for human dignity. ABA ROLI implements legal reform programs in roughly 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa.