Navi Pillay Receives New Term as UN Rights Chief

The UN General Assembly unanimously overruled Syria's objections and gave the outspoken Pillay to two more years in her post

Rachel Hirshfeld & Gabe Kahn,

Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human R
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human R

The UN General Assembly unanimously decided to give UN human rights chief Navi Pillay a new two-year term over Syria's objections that she has a "hostile" attitude toward Damascus.

Pillay went on record in March saying the Syrian army’s use of heavy weapons against civilians in densely populated areas was a crime under international law, adding President Bashar al-Assad was directly responsible.

"Factually, there’s enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces, (and) must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level,” Pillay said at the time.

“There is no statute of limitations so people like him can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice,” she added, referring to Assad.

The 193-nation assembly gave the new term yesterday by acclamation without a vote, 10 days after UN leader Ban Ki-moon said he wanted to keep Pillay in her high-profile post.

Pillay, a former senior judge in South Africa, is a key member of the Ban team, particularly during the past two years in which the Arab Spring has dominated the international agenda.

Pillay got the new vote of confidence as an independent committee of inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council released a new report on abuses by Syrian government forces.

Syria did not oppose the new term, but one of its diplomats told the UN meeting that the human rights commissioner "has taken hostile positions regarding Syria, basing herself on totally fabricated information and suspect sources, all directed against Syria."

Pillay has exceeded her mandate and become a "general prosecutor condemning Syria," mission third secretary Monia Alsaleh said, calling on the commissioner to "review her anti-Syria position."

Pillay's current four-year term ends in August. Ban announced earlier this month that he had persuaded her to stay on for another two years.

Ban said he was "pleased that he was able to prevail on Ms Pillay" to remain on his team. He did not say whether Pillay had wanted to leave.

Pillay's work has been widely praised internationally and there was immediate welcome for the General Assembly decision.