Judge Navi Pillay in Conversation with UKZN Law Students
Judge Navi Pillay – a distinguished expert on international criminal law and human rights who has celebrated inspiring firsts during her career – joined the UKZN School of Law for a discussion on human rights, international and criminal law, as well as some of the matters she has recently presided over as Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Commission of Enquiry on Palestine and Israel.
The first woman to start a Law practice in the former Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), the first Black female to serve in the High Court of South Africa, and the first South African to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) from Harvard Law School, Pillay is admired by many young female aspiring lawyers.
Also currently serving as Commissioner of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pillay has served as an International Criminal Court judge, and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She was called to lead the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Palestine and Israel in 2022, which found that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is unlawful under international law.
Pillay’s visit to UKZN was hosted by the Navi Pillay Research Group (NPRG) at the School of Law. The NPRG aims to create a platform for critical research and policy advocacy in the social justice sector, with a particular focus on the prosecution of apartheid-era crimes, Gender-Based Violence and children’s rights, disability, social cohesion, hate crimes, and other social justice issues.
The invitation was extended to staff and selected students. Students were drawn from second-year Constitutional Law and Human Rights modules, while fourth-year students were drawn from the Street Law module. Members of the NPRG also joined the conversation as part of their policy advocacy and activism research in honour of Pillay’s legacy.
Pillay’s wisdom and experience motivated students, as did her obvious passion for justice for ordinary people. During the discussion, she challenged students intellectually, posing thought-provoking questions such as prisoners’ rights to vote.
Speaking about her early years of practice and how she overcame the many challenges she experienced such as her work against apartheid and operating in a white-male-dominated sector, Pillay advised students to use the tools available to them, to listen to their clients, and to stand in solidarity against injustice. She called for the empowerment of young people by ensuring equal opportunities for all women and men.
All things considered, this convinced students that passion and skill are valuable in bringing about change.
Words: Nothando Mhlongo
Photographs: Nkosikhona Gcabashe