Navi Pillay: People Need to be Treated Equally

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In March, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and judge Navi Pillay delivered a public lecture organised by Penang Institute titled “Affirmative Action and Human Rights: Who Wins and Who Loses”. Here, we present touches of Pillay’s inspirational life and her views on the state of human rights in Malaysia.

E.E. Cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” This is true for Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, who is no stranger to the shadow of oppression. A South African of Indian-Tamil origin whose grandparents were brought as indentured labourers from India to work in the British-owned sugar cane plantations, Pillay’s parents had little prospect of escaping the clutches of poverty.

Together with her seven other siblings, she grew up in a society segregated under the Apartheid regime. As a minority Indian group, along with the majority black population, they were denied fundamental human rights. Despite this Pillay forged a life of possibilities amid daunting discrimination, graduating with a law degree and working for over 50 years as a lawyer.


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