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Indian-origin judge is new UN human rights chief

Indian-origin ICC judge Navanethem Pillay has been named the United Nations' new human rights chief, despite some initial opposition from the US.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2008 13:52 IST

Indian-origin ICC judge Navanethem Pillay has been named the United Nations' new human rights chief, despite some initial opposition from the US.

Pillay, 67, who is from South Africa, will succeed Louise Arbour of Canada who completed her term on June 30.

The job of human rights commissioner is both high profile and controversial as member States are very sensitive to their respective records. Arbour too had annoyed Islamic countries as also some western nations by her outspoken statements.

The 192-member General Assembly is expected to confirm Pillay's appointment for a four-year term on Monday. The search for new human rights commissioner started when Arbour said she does not intend to seek a second term.

Born into an ethnic Tamil family during apartheid daysm she was brought up in a poor neighbourhood and had to discrimination. Her father was a bus driver.

Despite odds, she became the first woman to start law practice in South Africa's Natal Province in 1968 and defended several anti-apartheid activists and successfully fought for the right of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers.

Officials and diplomats at the UN said the US had at one stage opposed her nomination because of her views on abortion and some other issues as also South Africa's opposition to impose sanction on Zimbabwe. But it finally gave the go ahead which led UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon to announce the appointment on Thursday.

A Harvard alumna, Pillai is serving as a judge on the International Criminal Court in the Hague since 2003. She had earlier served both as judge and president on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which she had joined in 1995.