Ambassador bestowed upon Judge Navi Pillay the award of Commandeur de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur
On Friday 1 April 2016, Ambassador of France to South Africa, HE Elisabeth Barbier, bestowed upon South African Judge Navi Pillay, the award of Commandeur de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (award of Commander in the French Legion of Honour).
- Read the Ambassador’s speech here
Navanethem "Navi" Pillay served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014. A South African of Indian origin, she was the first non-white woman judge of the High Court of South Africa, and she has also served as President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. In 2003, she was appointed as a judge on the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where she served on the Appeals Chamber until August 2008.
In 1967, Pillay became the first non-white woman to open her own law practice in Natal Province – where she was born. During her 28 years as a lawyer, she defended anti-Apartheid activists and helped expose the use of torture and poor conditions of political detainees. In 1973, she won the right for political prisoners on Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers.
In South Africa, she co-founded Equality Now, an international women’s rights organisation, and has been involved with other organisations working on issues relating to children, detainees, victims of torture and of domestic violence, and a range of economic, social and cultural rights.
She holds a Master of Law and a Doctorate of Juridical Science from Harvard University.
The French Legion of Honour celebrates the accomplishments of distinguished individuals, irrespective of sex, social background and nationality. The national order of the Legion of Honour was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. It is divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross). It was first awarded on July 14 1804.
South Africans who have received the Legion of Honour include Ahmed Kathrada, Desmond Tutu, Kader Asmal, Nadine Gordimer, André P Brink and Jay Naidoo.