Dorothy Toth Beasley∗

    Dean Partlett mentioned that the law school is a “jewel.” So too is Judge
Navanethem Pillay. Navanethem means precious gem or nine justices—she’ll
have to explain that to you. She likes to be called Navi, but I think her name is
so beautiful that you ought to know the whole thing.
    She was born in South Africa, and she has been both a symbol and a
standard-bearer for human rights in her country, in the region, and in the
world. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law degrees from
University of Natal in South Africa, and later a Master of Law and Doctor of
Juridical Science at Harvard.
    It was at the University of Natal that she first became acquainted with
international criminal law. She read many of the transcripts of the Nuremberg
trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II. The principle arising
from those transcripts of individual accountability for war crimes and crimes
against humanity has stayed with her throughout her legal and judicial careers.
    She opened her law practice in 1967, in Natal Province, and was the first
woman to do so in that place.1 As a practicing lawyer, she represented victims
of the racial separation laws of South Africa.2 A criminal defense lawyer, she
defended persons of color on charges of violating the racial laws of South
Africa’s white regime at a time when the South African bar was not only
racially segregated but also male dominated.
   One characteristic of the South African legal regime was that non-white
lawyers were not permitted to enter a judge’s chambers.3 And yet she
prevailed. Then, in 1995, she was appointed acting judge of the High Court of
South Africa by the Mandela government. She was the first woman of color to

    ∗    Senior Judge, Court of Appeals of Georgia, Member of the Board of Consultants of the World Law
      1 Int’l Crim. Ct., Judge Navanethem Pillay,

html (last visited Feb. 9, 2008).
      2 Id.
      3 Katy Glassboro, Apartheid Legacy Haunts ICC Appeals Judge, INST. FOR WAR & PEACE REPORTING,

July 25, 2006,
12                        EMORY INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW                                       [Vol. 22

be so appointed.4 Soon after that, again in 1995, she was elected by the United
Nations General Assembly as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda, where she served for eight years, four of which as president.5
    During her tenure on that Tribunal, she participated in three major
decisions that have contributed greatly to the development of international
criminal law. First was a conviction against Jean-Paul Akayesu, mayor of a
Rwandan town.6 He was the first person convicted of genocide by an
international criminal court. The significance of the opinion, which was made
possible by Judge Pillay’s presence, was the holding that rape constitutes a
crime against humanity; when it is directed to destroy a specific group, it
constitutes genocide.
    A second one was the conviction of Jean Kambanda, Rwanda’s former
prime minister.7 He was convicted of genocide through a guilty plea, and he
was the first head of government—the first head of government in the history
of the world—to be held so accountable.
    Third, there was the conviction of three Rwandans for using the media to
incite genocide.8 That 2003 decision made the front page of the New York
Times.9 The reports were that the killing of about 800,000 Rwandans, mostly
the Tutsi minority, over several months in 1994, was fomented by the media.10
One man owned a newspaper, one controlled the popular radio station, and the
third was the station’s co-founder. The Tribunal not only established a new
requirement for the responsibility of the media with regard to criminal
incitement to mass murder, but it also helped set the international standard
governing the responsibility of those who control the media for disseminating
    So Judge Pillay is a trailblazer, one who makes precedent in international
criminal law. In February 2003, she was elected as one of eighteen judges of
the International Criminal Court and now is on the Appeals Division.11

     4 Emily Newburger, The Bus Driver’s Daughter, HARV. L. BULL., Spring 2006, available at http://www.
     5 Glassboro, supra note 3.
     6 Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, Judgment (Sept. 2, 1998).
     7 Prosecutor v. Jean Kambanda, Case No. ICTR-97-23-S, Judgment and Sentence (Sept. 4, 1998).
     8 Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Case No. ICTR-99-52-T, Judgment and Sentence (Dec. 3, 2003).
     9 Sharon LaFraniere, Court Convicts 3 in 1994 Genocide Across Rwanda, N.Y. TIMES, Dec. 4, 2003, at

    10 2 Rwandan Journalists Convicted in Genocide, L.A. TIMES, Dec. 4, 2003, at A11.
    11 Int’l Crim. Ct., supra note 1.
2008]                        INTRODUCTION TO JUDGE PILLAY                                             13

    Her commitment to human rights and to women’s issues extends beyond
her work on the bench. She is currently the honorary chair for Equality Now
and serves on the board of directors for Nozala Investments, the women’s
component of the National Economic Initiative.12 She has held key positions
in many, many organizations and has lectured on the subjects that she is
interested in, as we are. She has received many awards, but I won’t go into
them right now because we want to hear from her. Of note, however, is that in
December 2003, she was awarded the Gruber Foundation Women’s Rights
Prize, and in June 2004, the Harvard Law School Association Award.13 And I
think perhaps her most precious prizes are her two daughters.
    She, like me, is a member of the International Association of Women
Judges, and she gave the address at the closing dinner of our conference in
Buenos Aires in 2000. I was privileged to be placed beside her for dinner and
that is when we became acquainted and have been friends ever since.
    In 2005, I learned that she was coming to this side of the Atlantic, and so
we prevailed upon her to speak at the annual banquet of the Georgia
Association for Women Lawyers. She graciously agreed to an additional
assignment to speak at lunch the next day because so many of the attendees
wanted to have lunch with her and hear more—to learn more.
    So it gives me a great deal of pleasure and pride to introduce Judge Pillay
to you.

         Equality Now, Equality Now Board of Directors,
advisory/board-advisory_en.html (last visited May 8, 2008); Nozala Investments, About Nozala Investments, (last visited May 8, 2008).
    13 South African Judge Navanethem Pillay Receives 2003 Women’s Rights Prize, VOICE OF AMERICA,

Dec. 11, 2003,; Harvard Law
School, (last visited Feb. 9, 2008).

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