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South Africa judge takes office as UN human rights commissioner

[JURIST] South African judge Navanethem Pillay [official profile] on Monday assumed the role [UN press release] of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing departing commissioner Louise Arbour [JURIST report]. Pillay will hold the office for four years, and prior to her appointment, she had served on both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites]. She is also a co-founder of women's rights group Equality Now [advocacy website] and in 1995 became first woman of Southeast-Asian descent appointed to the South African Supreme Court [official website]. Pillay on Monday said that her focus as Commissioner will be on both speaking for victims and holding violators accountable, and that she hopes to engage [Haaretz report] "as many countries... as possible" in an April 2009 anti-racism conference in Geneva. UN News Centre has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Pillay was appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and confirmed [JURIST reports] by the UN General Assembly for the position in July. In March, preceding Commissioner Louise Arbour said she would not seek a second term [press release; JURIST report] when her commission ended on June 30. Arbour was appointed [JURIST report] to her position in 2004 after five years as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She succeeded Sergio Vieira de Mello [BBC obituary], who was killed in a 2003 suicide bomb attack on UN offices in Baghdad. Arbour served as chief war crimes prosecutor for the UN in the late 1990s.

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