The Practice of Freedom: Impunity, Justice, and the Law featuring Judge Navi Pillay

Tuesday, Nov 27, 2018 | 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Goldberg Room, 297 Simon Hall, Berkeley Law
Location is ADA accessible

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2008-2014 and
Judge on the International Criminal Court, 2003-2008

In conversation

Opening remarks by:
Professor Leti Volpp, Robert D. and Leslie Kay Raven Professor of Law in Access to Justice at Berkeley Law and Director, Center for Race and Gender

Moderated by:
Professor Angana Chatterji, Founding Co-chair, Project on Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights and Visiting Research Anthropologist, Center for Race and Gender


Professor Abdul R. JanMohamed, Department of English

Professor Mariane C. Ferme, Anthropology and African Studies and Curator of African Ethnology at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Professor Paola Bacchetta, Gender and Women’s Studies and Co-chair, Project on Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights

Professor Managay Reddi, Dean and Head of the School of Law, University of Kwazulu-Natal at Durban and Advocate of the High Court of South Africa

Professor Christoph Safferling, Chair for Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, International Criminal Law and Public International Law, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg

Judge Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay will speak to her work spanning the struggle for freedom in South Africa, on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, on the International Criminal Court, and as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including her current work on international justice and against the death penalty.

Judge Pillay was raised in apartheid South Africa. Of the Tamil Diaspora, her grandparents were indentured to South Africa from the Madras Presidency in colonized India in the late nineteenth century. Navi Pillay grew up with a passionate dedication to challenge and remedy injustice. Dr. Pillay was the first non-white woman to start a law practice in her home in Natal in 1967. During the 28-years she worked as a “colored” lawyer, Navi Pillay had not been permitted to set foot in a judge’s chambers. She provided legal defense for opponents of apartheid, including members of the African National Congress, Unity Movement, Black Consciousness Movement and Azanian People’s Organization. In 1973, Pillay won the right for political prisoners on Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers. She worked as a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and was later appointed Vice-President of the Council of the University of Durban Westville. She contributed to the inclusion of an equality clause in the constitution of South Africa in her capacity as a member of the Women’s National Coalition in South Africa. In 1995, Dr. Pillay was appointed Acting Judge in the High Court of South Africa, by appointment of then President Nelson Mandela.  She was the first woman of color and first attorney to serve on the bench. In 1995, Dr. Pillay was elected by the United Nations General Assembly to serve as a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a post she held for eight years, including as its president between 1999 and 2002. In this role, she is best remembered for the ruling that rape and sexual assault constitute acts of genocide, stating: “Rape had always been regarded as one of the spoils of war,” “Now it is a war crime, no longer a trophy.”  In 2003, she was elected by the Assembly of State Parties, The Hague, as a judge on the International Criminal Court, a post she held until 2008. Thereafter, Judge Pillay served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from September 2008-2014. Her responsibilities, she said, demanded she work for no less than the full protection of all human rights for all individuals – civil and political rights, economic and social rights – especially for neglected groups, such as women, children, minorities, migrants, indigenous people, those with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Dr. Pillay received a BA and a LLB from Natal University South Africa and holds a Master of Law and a Doctorate of Juridical Science from Harvard University. She is the recipient of the Commandeur de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (award of Commander in the French Legion of Honor, 2016) and numerous honorary doctorates, including from Durham University, City University of New York School of Law, London School of Economics and Tufts University. Judge Pillay co-founded the Advice Desk for the Abused in South Africa and Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization, and has been involved with organizations working on issues relating to children, detainees, victims of torture and of domestic violence, and a range of economic, social and cultural rights.

International Human Rights Law Clinic, Berkeley Law
Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law, Berkeley Law
Gender and Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley
School of Law, University of Kwazulu-Natal at Durban



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