Session with Ms. Navi Pillay

Ms. Navi Pillay served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014.

May 2015, Stanford Faculty Club, Gold Room


When I realized I was assigned a seat at the table where Navi Pillay would be sitting, I was both excited and intimidated at the same time. I did not know how approachable, friendly and ‘human’ she is till we started talking – first about my research and interests, then about her childhood, growing up as a South African in a Tamil household, while being recognized and categorized as an Indian by the outside world, and her conflicted association with India. She was both passionate and humorous, while narrating how her background as a colored woman deprived her of many privileges while growing up during the Apartheid, how such experiences and her intolerance for injustice and inequality had driven her to be who she is today, thus making the personal political and vice versa. What I found intriguing in her speech is that she seemed solution-oriented, as she started with the ‘Next steps’ we need to take in our journey toward universal human rights. She extended her compassion and belief in human rights to concerns about ecology and the environment, as she recognizes how a healthy environment is instrumental in harboring harmony and equality among all human beings.