In 1967, Pillay became the first non-white
woman to open her own law practice in Natal Province
She says she had no other alternative: "No law firm would employ me because they said they could not have white employees taking instructions from a coloured person".
As a non-white lawyer under the Apartheid
regime, she was not allowed to enter a judge's chambers.
During her 28 years as a lawyer in South Africa, she defended anti-Apartheid activists
and helped expose the use of torture
and poor conditions of political detainees.
When her husband was detained under the Apartheid
laws, she successfully sued to prevent the police from using unlawful methods of interrogation against him.
In 1973, she won the right for political prisoners on Robben Island
, including Nelson Mandela
, to have access to lawyers.
She co-founded the Advice Desk for the Abused and ran a shelter for victims of domestic violence. As a member of the Women’s National Coalition, she contributed to the inclusion in South Africa’s Constitution of an equality clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation. In 1992, she co-founded the international women's rights group Equality Now
In February 2003, she was elected to the first ever panel of judges of the International Criminal Court
and assigned to the Appeals Division.
She was elected to a six-year term, but resigned in August 2008 in order to take up her position with the UN.
High Commissioner for Human Rights
Pillay voiced support for a gay rights resolution in the UNHRC, which was approved in 2011.
At a news conference in July 2014, she referred to Edward Snowden
as a "human rights defender" and said, "I am raising right here some very important arguments that could be raised on his behalf so that these criminal proceedings are averted."
In August 2014, she criticized the international community over its "paralysis" in dealing with the more than three-year old Syrian Civil War
, which by 30 April 2014 had resulted in 191,369 deaths.
She has been awarded honorary degrees by
In 2009, Forbes
ranked her as the 64th most powerful woman in the world.
In 2009, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement
presented by Awards Council member Archbishop Desmond Tutu at an awards ceremony at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.
Her criticism of the Sri Lankan government, in alleging human rights violations and atrocities committed by them against Tamil civilians at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war
, has led the government and its supporters to apportion her own Tamil descent as the only reason for her criticism, a claim she strongly denies.
In a speech on 8 June 2012, Pillay blacklisted the provincial government of Quebec
in Canada for human rights violations concerning the rights to peaceful protest and free expression for its student protesters, specifically in Canada. The reaction from human rights NGOs was mixed. Quebec official sources criticised Pillay for comparing Quebec with areas known to have worse records.
Pillay's call in 2012 for the suspension of sanctions
against the Mugabe
regime in Zimbabwe
was criticised by Zimbabwean civil society groups who accused the Zimbabwean government of manipulating Pillay to overlook the human rights violations committed by the government.
Her contribution to the 2001 Durban Conference on racism
, the Goldstone report
, and her steering of the UN Human Rights Council
have been criticized as unjust by The Jerusalem Post
, an Israeli newspaper.
Pillay's claim that Israel was engaged in the "apparent targeting of …children playing", on 23 July 2014, a charge previously denied by IDF spokesmen,
has been described by Anne Bayefsky
as "incitement to hate".
After reviewing heavy US contribution to the Iron Dome
program, her call for better defence for Gaza, "No such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling"
has been described by one critic in Tablet
magazine as a "hilariously delicious absurdity".
On 25 July 2014, the United States Congress
published a letter addressed to Pillay by over 100 members in which the signatories asserted that the Human Rights Council "cannot be taken seriously as a human rights organisation" over their handling of the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict
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Last edited on 19 February 2021, at 17:22
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