New Human Rights Commissioner Named

Maggie Farley of the LA Times has the goods on the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s choice for the next UN human rights commissioner — a South African judge, of Tamil origins, named Navanethem Pillay.

Pillay, born in 1941, also served as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda prosecuting crimes related to that nation’s genocide. She presided over landmark cases in international law that established rape as a war crime, convicted a former head of state for atrocities committed during his rule and prosecuted media for inciting genocide. She has served for five years on the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Pillay may not be as outspoken as the current commissioner, Canadian Judge Louise Arbour, who often shamed governments and leaders that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would not criticize by name.

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I’ve heard that criticism before — that Ban was likely to pick someone not as vocal as Arbour in calling out Member States — but, having little familiarity of Pillay, I’ll reserve judgment until she begins her tenure. It’s a tough job, dealing with countries that routinely abuse human rights, but lacking much real enforcement power outside the bully pulpit.

One criticism that can be made legitimately is the unnecessary opacity of the S-G’s selection process. Every NGO I’ve talked to has complained about how little insight into the process has been available to the public. I understand that some aspects of the search would have to remain confidential, but others certainly do not have to be so secretive that not even the candidates themselves know if they’re being offered the position.