CCJHR Advisory Board Member appointed as new High Commissioner for Human Rights

This blog post was contributed by Dr Siobhan Mullally, Joint Director of the CCJHR

The CCJHR is delighted to welcome the appointment of Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, of South Africa, to succeed Louise Arbour as High Commissioner for Human Rights — the leading UN human rights official. At a special meeting in New York on 28 July 2008, the UN Secretary-General’s nominee was confirmed by consensus. Ms. Pillay’s four-year term as High Commissioner will start on 1 September 2008.

Judge Pillay is a member of the CCJHR Advisory Board. In February 2008, Judge Pillay delivered the Second Annual Lecture of the CCJHR on the subject of The Role of the International Criminal Court in Promoting Human Rights. The lecture was chaired by Hon Justice Maureen Harding Clark of the High Cour (former judge of the ICC). The lecture can be viewed here.

Biography of Navanethem Pillay
As a member of a non-white minority in apartheid South Africa, and as a front-line, grassroots lawyer who acted as a defense attorney for many anti-apartheid campaigners and trades unionists, Ms. Pillay has direct personal experience of many of the issues that a High Commissioner for Human Rights covers under her mandate. She has also been very active in supporting women’s rights, and was one of the co-founders of the international NGO Equality Now, which campaigns for women’s rights. She has also been involved with a number of other organizations working on issues relating to children, detainees, victims of torture, and of domestic violence as well as a range of other economic, social and cultural rights. More recently, Ms. Pillay has served as a judge on two of the most important international criminal courts in the modern era, spending eight years with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, including four years as its President, and then the past five years on the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Both of these courts deal with the extreme end of the human rights spectrum — war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and are at the cutting edge of the development of international law in these areas.

Hunger Strike at the ICTR

JURIST reports that forty prisoners in Tanzania who are awaiting trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have gone on hunger strike in protest over the Prosecutor’s application to transfer them for trial in a Rwandan national court. The ICTR’s mandate runs only until December 2008, therefore we can perhaps expect that more applications of this nature will arise in order to ensure that the ICTR completes its work within its given time frame. The prisoners’ protest, however, that the Rwandan courts can not guarantee them a fair trial.

The problems surrounding transfer of prisoners of this nature and, indeed, the fate of people acquitted by the international tribunals (can they be returned to the country in which the alleged crimes took place? Are they prohibited from seeking asylum because of suspicion of involvement in war crimes, crimes against humanity etc…) have not attracted much attention in the scholarship, but Kevin Jon Heller (U Auckland) has a working paper on SSRN about the issues surrounding the destination of acquittees that raises some interesting points. The paper is a working piece and, some might say, could pay more attention to jus cogens or non refoulement but the issues that it raises are expressed in Heller’s characteristic evocative style and it comes recommended to anyone with an interest in these issues.