Posted on 23 February 2018
Navi Pillay visited the EUI on Friday 23 February to discuss her storied career in law, human rights and governance. Pillay, who spoke at the latest in the School of Transnational Governance’s ‘My Career’ series, memorably served as the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations between 2008 and 2014.
Prior to taking up her role with the UN, Pillay, a South African woman of Indian descent, was chosen by then-President Nelson Mandela as the first non-white woman judge of the High Court of South Africa. She has also served as a judge on the International Criminal Court and as President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Introducing the talk, the EUI’s Professor Jennifer Welsh noted Pillay’s admirable track record of ‘speaking truth to power,’ even in challenging political and diplomatic contexts. Reflecting on starting her law career in Apartheid-era South Africa, Pillay noted that she was forced to start her own law firm with little more than a stack of paper borrowed from her university and a typewriter she’d been given. ‘I had no choice,’ she revealed, ‘nobody would hire me.’
Over the course of an hour at the Badia Fiesolana, Pillay engaged in an instructive and engaging discussion with EUI researchers and Young Policy Fellows from the STG, which covered everything from the death penalty to the future of South Africa in the wake of Jacob Zuma’s recent resignation. Pillay’s wisdom and advice was much-appreciated by the assembled audience who doubtless would love to replicate her impressive career.
From left: SPS Professor Jennifer Welsh, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, STG Policy Leader Fellow William Lochi