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  Sunday, November 1 2:46pm PST

Saatchi & Saatchi
Judge Navanethem Pillay
The Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda addresses the State of the World Forum in San Francisco, 29 October 1998


Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please. Welcome to this session. We are very sorry that Mr. Hernando De Soto was unable to join us because of a family emergency. That's our bad news. But the good news is that we have with us Judge Navanethem Pillay of South Africa - the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court of South Africa. The topic she will be addressing today is: A Humane Journey: From Conversation to Transformation, which reflects both her experiences in South Africa, and also very closely connects to the dialog-centered work of the Forum.

It is very difficult to introduce Judge Pillay as she has done so much, and has been the first in so many fields, that it would take up the time that really should go to her, to enumerate them. She has been an attorney for 30 years. She was the first black woman from South Africa to get a doctorate in Law from Harvard. She defended and represented liberationists and activists in South Africa before the changes that happened in that country. She is now sitting on the international - the UN Tribunal for Rwanda - and actually the tribunal is located in Tanzania - the tribunal for Rwanda. She has had an extremely active life with regards to gender and gender issues and women's activism. She is now the chair of Equality Now, an important women's human rights organization that brings attention to cases of abuse against women in powerfully effective alerts. I'm also very honored to have her as a member of the advisory group of the Sisterhood is Global Institute.

And now, without taking more of your time, I would like to ask Judge Pillay to come to the podium, thank you.

Judge Pillay:

Now that the organizers have apologized for the substitute speaker, I can only plead that you bear with me if I do not, or if I fail to address the issues of concern to you. I notice that Mr. Hernando Desoto had titled his remarks "Shall the Poor Inherit the Earth?" I don't know the answer to that question. But as a lawyer, what strikes me is actually, you can't inherit anything unless somebody is dead.

So I thought, I'll have a less drastic approach to social change, and talk about my journey and the journey of 30 million people in South Africa, all of whom know what is poverty and all the effects of poverty - the ignorance, and lack of opportunities.

As a child, and even as an adult in South Africa, I never thought that I would see the end of apartheid in my lifetime. And so now I wonder whether children born today in my country will ever really know what apartheid was like for those of us who lived through it. After 300 years, apartheid became history in - relatively- a short period of time. So what I want to look at, in keeping with the theme of the conference, are some of the actions that made a difference in our struggle and some of the other ongoing struggles I'm still engaged in, and how we can apply some of the lessons we have learned to accelerate the pace of social change.

I remember, as a child, being asked to, for instance, pronounce the word 'water' at school. And when I did so, properly, then they labeled me, and said, 'Well, you think you're a black European.' Because I said 'water' instead of 'watER' or something. So the message that came from the community was, 'Know your place and don't even try to aspire to be something else. Don't even try to change.' So they don't tell you what your place is and why.

I think, as children, we all start off with the presumption that we are as good as anyone else and then we are trained to be deferential. And in South Africa, we were trained to see ourselves as second class citizens. Those of you who've read Nelson Mandela's book Long Road To Freedom, would see in the first few chapters he said that, for instance, Nelson is not his name. But when he entered school, the teacher assigned them Christian names, and that's how he was assigned the name Nelson. This is the kind of non-status that we all labored under. Black was a non-person, and you never were proud of being black. For instance, you know, there was a lot of prohibition and banning and one of the things they banned was Black Beauty, because they thought it's praising black people, and then they realized that this is the name of a horse.

When I was at Harvard, I was there with my children, so my daughter, [Carmony] was ten years old, so she had a year's schooling at Cambridge, near Harvard. When we went back, I think the school asked her to speak and the teachers called me to say that what she said to the assembly was, "In the United States I was treated as a person, and here I am treated as a thing." So, this kind of non-status was instilled in the law, but we didn't know that. We grew up thinking that it was THE way of life to be classified European and non-European - the non-person. And we grew accustomed to accepting that facilities such as park benches, beaches, housing, schools, were reserved for Europeans only. And so we were very amused when some Americans thought, when they visited, that they couldn't enjoy these European-only facilities.

On the one hand, the community rained forth negative stereotypes and trained us to be deferential and not try to change. And yet, on the other hand, if it wasn't for community, I never would have become a lawyer, or a judge. Because after an essay that I wrote when I was sixteen, it was "The Role of South African Women," this was in 1958, and I said that I thought their role was to inculcate values of human rights in children. It seemed that was very radical in those days, because the role of women was to stay at home in those days. So, that was published, and the community thought: it's worth raising funds to send this young woman to university.


Thank you.

I almost didn't make it as a lawyer, though, because when I entered University everything was segregated [ because it was in] a non-white section. And the registrar actually discouraged me from becoming a lawyer because, he said, that you cannot expect white secretaries to take instruction from a black lawyer. And after I graduated, I looked for an internship, which was mandatory under the law, and there were all these double-discriminations that I was black, and I was a black woman. Finally, it was a black lawyer who agreed to let me serve articles on condition that I undertook not to fall pregnant. And when I started a law practice for the first time, it was not out of choice, but because nobody would employ a black woman lawyer.

In my practice in that time, in the seventies, I began handling very many political cases. One such case was representing [Harry Ngola], a human rights activist. He was detained by - he and very many others - this was a period, I'm talking about, where many people - women, children, were detained for questioning - detained suspected for anti-government activities, or simply to try to bring apartheid down - and I took very many affidavits of people who were tortured. So, Harry Ngola, who was in his sixties was detained, and to get him to talk, they detained his wife, children, and his grandson, who was about three years old. So I was asking the security policeman, this is a member of BOSS - the Bureau of State Security - and I was pleading with him to at least let the child out of prison. And he said that "A child that age is not a child - he's old enough to herd cattle - so it's okay to keep him in prison."

More recently - I'm just digressing a bit -when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa unearthed documents, one of the documents was this BOSS's hit list, and it was prepared in 1987, and I was - I'm also named on that list - but in one of the lower categories. Others are people who are now judges today , Bishop Tutu's name is there, and the chief justice of our constitutional court, his name is there, in that list. When this was published now, in 1997, I tried to figure out what I was doing in 1987 or so, and I realized that was more or less after I'd graduated from Harvard. You see, so they knew so little, they didn't realize that Harvard turns out capitalists, not communists.

I think that this experience, in South Africa, at one time it did, I'm not saying it didn't, that we saw white people as the enemy, and the white man as the oppressor. But how did that change for us? Little instances of kindnesses, but also the fact that it was people of all colors, white people, who served in prisons, so in other words, it's ordinary people, who all collaborated in the struggle against apartheid.

I was once asked to talk about a favorite photograph. And I fished out this photograph that was taken about 20 years ago, with me and my children in the park. And I said that picture moved me because this was the time I was tying to get this child out of prison, and I had my own children in the park, and naturally where would children want to go in the park ? To the play area - the swings and so on, that was reserved for whites. My little girl would run in and be very wary of the Warden of Police trying to arrest her for that. So, what we were feeling is devalued as persons. And along came this white photographer and he took this picture of me and the children and he sent it to us - it was a total stranger - but I was really touched by this and I felt that he saw beauty in my children, and that helped me to, I think, reinforce my faith in humanity.


And of course, more importantly, the international campaign against apartheid really inspired us, and moved us to carry our own struggle forward. Part of the propaganda with which we were held in South Africa was not to adopt any American ways, So really, for us, you were the communists. Because what were Americans teaching us? You were teaching the American Revolution. You were teaching us Constitution and fundamental rights, the right to vote, equality between black and white people. So that's why, if anybody quoted anything American, it was "un-South African." And I remember that the chief justice of the Appellate Courts once said, "Don't quote us these American cases."

And that's why the help we had from ordinary people- when they boycotted South African-made goods, ensured that South African sports didn't feature in the Olympic games - inspired us and helped us overcome apartheid.

I had occasion as a lawyer to go to [Robin Island Prison] many times, while President Nelson Mandela was serving his life sentence there. And when I watched him assume power as president of my country, in a peaceful transition, what had seemed impossible became a reality. South Africa now has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.

So, this kind of change that we have seen in South Africa, because of your shared conversation, and your joining in action, is, I think, the kind of change that we should try and achieve for women around the world, including women in South Africa.

When I became a judge in South Africa, in the [Durban] court, and walked in there the first day, I found that there were two toilets, and you'd expect it that it would say 'men' and 'women.' It said 'judges' and 'secretaries.' And even now, as I sit in the United Nations Tribunal there, that's it - they never anticipate that there's going to be a woman judge, so there's this one toilet, men judges were using it, so I just crash in.


So I feel that the same kind of social and other forces which kept apartheid in place for so long are used in many countries to make women feel like second class citizens. And in many countries they are treated as second class citizens - even in law. We need to build, I feel, a strong international women's movement to address this inequality. In South Africa, in 1991, I helped [found the advice trust of] abused women. And over the years I have worked with thousands of domestic violence survivors. And I'm really distressed to find that the batterers are even amongst the parliamentarians. And in the new South Africa, I think this is a distressing situation. So, the struggle for human rights in South Africa is far from over.

So, as we did, suffering under apartheid, women living in conditions of inequality and oppression need support from other women, and from the outside world. As white people were instrumental in supporting the struggle against apartheid, men can be instrumental in protecting and promoting the fundamental human rights of women. In the same way that I was trained by my community to think that I was a lesser person, women, systematically, all over the world are being raised by women and men to think that they are less deserving and less important. So we need to remember these things when we raise our children, and we instill in them the voice of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, about equality and dignity.

We also need to build a worldwide movement of solidarity and support. Here, in New York, in 1992, I was one of the co-founders of Equality Now, an international human rights organization, working for women's rights. And we find that women in South America care deeply about the practice of female genital mutilation in Africa. Women in Africa care about the trafficking of women and girls in Asia. And women in Asia care about the high level of violence against women in the U.S. and so on. So we have to, I think, mobilize this concern and turn it into meaningful action,. Solidarity is, perhaps, the strongest force there is for social change. Collective action counts greater than the sum of its parts. I think what we learned in South Africa is that once you get to a critical mass, the momentum starts to build and at a certain point in time, the result is almost inavertable. So, we have to get to this critical mass on other issues. Women's rights, human rights, the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment, and other concerns that effect all of us all around the world. I look forward to working with you on these issues and using these conversations that we are having to move the process of transformation forward. Thank you for listening.

Thank you very much, Judge Pillay, for sharing with us these both personal and universal ideas and concerns. We have some time for comments and questions. You may also want to address the other experiences of Judge Pillay in Rwanda and other aspects of her work. There are microphones, if there are any comments or questions, Judge Pillay has agreed to be with us and engage in that conversation.

Question: My name is [Surjaloup ] I am from the Bay area, I am a jeweler, and with friends, I am originally from Argentina, we survived the dirty war, and with some Argentinean friends, we saw the genocide that was going on in Rwanda, and we speculated what could be done with the people who committed the atrocities. And we revised some of the ideas that we had in Argentina, and it was to deny the possibility to the men who had committed the killings, to deny the possibility to have children again, so they would be alive, they would be clipped. It's very barbaric, I know, but it would be a very clear message, that if you take someone else's life, you are cutting your genealogical tree, you are not going to reproduce. And perhaps that would be natural selection, and the ones who would reproduce would be the people who care for life. I would like you to comment.

Judge Pillay: I don't know. You're suggesting forms of punishment that we should pass? In Rwanda, part of the propaganda that the establishment - this is according to the evidence we heard - was, when they whipped up feelings to get the [Hutu] to kill the [Tutsi], they were told, 'we should kill them in such a way that one day children will ask 'what did a Tutsi look like?" So that's why, the recent judgement we just gave, found on the basis of the evidence, that there was genocide. You must have heard of this judgement we just delivered a month ago - it's the first time in history that there's been a conviction on a count of genocide and that rape was found to be part of this genocide.

Now, in terms of our statute, the highest form of punishment we could mete out is life imprisonment, and not death. I take your question as really a comment, because of the sense of outrage we feel against the perpetrators. But as I sit as a judge, these are the punishments that we are obliged to mete out. I hope that - I accept what you are saying, but certainly it's hardly the place for the courtroom to even consider kind of drastic punishments against a whole race of people.

Question : My name is [Malkisovic] and I am from Kenya and I would just like to comment on what you have said. I think concentrating on punishing the perpetrators of a crime would actually be missing the point, because when a certain community goes out to kill another one, they are doing it because of a particular feeling - a very strong, deep-felt feeling that they have developed over the years - they believe that they have a reason to do that in the same way that a society would believe that they have a reason to take the life of a criminal when they sanction the death penalty. So I think concentrating on punishing these people would be missing the point.

It would be important to go back and look at the history of the conflict in Rwanda and [Barundi], and anyone who has studied the history of colonization will realize that this is a conflict that has been brewed up over the years. When the Belgians went into Rwanda and Barundi and found the Hutus and the Tutsis living the way they were living and brought about systems that , in effect, increased the separation, the economic inequalities between these people, and therefore perpetrated the hatred that had been developing, and in the end these people inherited a system of inequality from their colonizers and after that, they were living in a very economically segregated system. And as a result of that, the hate went on, and on, and on. And one group began to fight the other, because they began to believe that their inferior state - economically inferior state - was brought about by the other group.

So I think solving a problem like this would have to take into account the historical dimensions, and I think South Africa really showed the right way to go about this - with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, realizing that as much as I have something that I hold very dear to me, the other person also has something that they hold dear to them and it is important that people sit down and discuss these things - iron these differences out - to take away the emphasis from retaliation and put it in reconciliation - it becomes hypocritical, I think, to look at the situation in Rwanda and look at it in isolation, because the very same thing is happening all over the world, it's just happening in different forms. In Rwanda and Barundi they killed each other, right? In other countries, there are people who actually go out and make other people poor and how do you expect those people to live? It's an economic war, so, I think all these things ought to be taken into account.


Judge Pillay: Thank you very much for your comments. Well, what the Tribunal is about is to punish people and end the culture of impunity because we've had, I think, too many leaders who do not understand that they are accountable to the people. So the idea of punishment is to act as a deterrent. The idea of this forum is it spells out, I think, the process that they followed for South Africa. We believe in the democratic process and conversation and we want to avoid a blood bath,. The people of the world took a big risk with South Africa - there could have been a blood bath - but they placed their faith in dialog and the democratic process. That didn't happen in Rwanda. The international community feels here was a genocide second only to the Holocaust and we cannot allow serious offenders who committed massacres to walk away free.

Judge Pillay: These lights make one want to confess.


Question: Thank you, first I would really like to thank Judge Pillay to open the discussion and the spirit of dialog which was not so present in this room, so I really want to say "big thank you" for this opportunity. And I also want to say how happy I am about the recent judgement about genocide in Rwanda.


And I think that's really an historical event, so I just wanted to hear your comments and to sort of comparison between international support which you get as a tribunal for Rwanda and to compare it with support which tribunal for post-Yugoslavia is getting. Because for long time, when comparisons had been drawn, there was the statement that tribunal in Yugoslavia was getting much more attention and support And I would also like to hear your opinions on prospects to help international criminal court on war crimes someday.

Judge Pillay: You know, the funding for both tribunals is the same. But there are major differences and the one that really hits you is where we are based, we really, in [Arucia], which is cut off from the rest of the world, and it is so rural, that they have to spend a lot of money just to provide transport, for instance, and the Hague tribunal doesn't have that expense. And because of the logistical problems, power cuts off, and the telephones don't work, we don't have libraries and proper facilities, and I think also , the fact that the UN took the trouble of sending staff over to the Hague to set that up, and that was not done yet, so there was a great many problems for the first two years. Otherwise, its not much different because our statute is similar, and our rules are the same, and we meet once a year in a [plenary] to draw the same kind of rules. The one thing we really suffer from is the lack of attention from the world media and the international public. I should think that is the major difference. We have been, of course, more successful. We have had these two trials, we convicted the Prime Minister. And we have 31 people awaiting trial. The Hague tribunal does not have that kind of success because these two people - the two Yugoslavian leaders who have been indicted- have not been arrested. And I think there is lack of political will there.

Question: My question is a question about healing ,and given the perspective that you have in these tremendous tragedies, speaking for myself I know that I have such difficulty getting over a feeling when I feel I have been wronged and there are people in the world who have been so seriously victimized and I'm wondering, given what you have seen, is there anything you can share with us that we might also be able to extrapolate out on a much larger basis, from people who have been able to heal from either personally, or having their peoples been victimized in such horrendous ways, but yet have been able to transcend and forgive and move on?

Judge Pillay: I don't know if South Africans have special qualities, but we always felt, in the worst of times, that we had the ability to laugh. You know, I said to you earlier that I took so many statements from detainees, and at the height of the horrors, they would describe something that the security policeman did which would be so funny, and we would laugh about it. So maybe things were so terrible that we learned to laugh, I think so much credit does go to President Mandela. When he first came out of prison and said, "Now it's time to throw your spears away into the sea, and it's time to forgive and forget," we were all horrified because you know, here we were, full of hatred and fight. I think that he set the pace for everybody, and really there is coexistence in South Africa now, even I'm surprised by that.

So I wish I had some particular message for you. I think the heroism of survivors is what inspires me. I've listened to like 45 witnesses - these are survivors who give first-hand accounts of what they went through - a mother who has lost seven children, a father who managed to save his one child by lying over the child even though he had shrapnel and bullet wounds, and he lay there for 48 hours, under the dead bodies. And the soldiers would come and prod - one banged his head, and so he had a crack on his head as well - to see whether the people are still alive. And he said he doesn't know what's the willpower and the spirit that makes us want to live, that made him survive. And I find that these stories are inspirational and all the complaints that I have about life are small compared to the suffering of other people.

Question: My name's [Rebecca Peters]. I'm from Australia. Thanks so much for your speech, I just think you're such a wonderful, fantastic person and role model and everything else. I've got two questions which are both brief. I saw the other day on the television a program about Rwanda and about 35,000 prisoners who are in jail and they're being tried in the criminal justice system of Rwanda, I guess, and that process was expected to take 250 years to try them all, and I wonder how that fits in with the international tribunal. And also, you mentioned that the sanctions against South Africa were helpful in dismantling apartheid, or at least in providing encouragement to the activists there. I wonder how you feel about sanctions now against humans rights-abusing regimes.

Judge Pillay: First of all, there are 135,000 men, women, and children inside the jails in Rwanda, awaiting trial. So there's simultaneous jurisdiction. The international tribunal, which charges some of the people, mainly the people in leadership, and of course, it's a concern of everybody, of how they're going to be trying 135,000 people. What they've done is pass legislation and graded them from the most serious, and they possibly may have a Truth Commission type of procedure for the people whom they regard as lesser offenders, and they've also spread out the trials so they would take place in various villages, and so on. I believe that the 135,000 are occupying space in prisons that were built for 8,000 and that's a major concern for all of us. They have, I think, convicted about 136 people, and imposed about 52 death sentences. So I don't know what's the response there. I'm very concerned about this, because really the international tribunal has so much funding, and then you think, right next door there's this process that's not moving.

Your other question was about sanctions. You know, sanctions really hurt us - the black people- we lost jobs and then we couldn't understand this - why were American multi-nationals pulling out and the white Afrikaners were taking over these businesses anyway? So when we were going through it, we didn't understand it and then, gradually, we saw of course it improved the lives of workers immediately, and so on. Sanctions, I'm not a politician, but I think world leaders see sanctions as an alternative route to violence. Nobody wants military intervention so we apply sanctions, not against people, but against perpetrators, as leverage to get them to change. So it's always, I think, an option that we don't particularly want to use, but it's open to us.

Thank you very much, Judge Pillay, for an inspiring presentation, and for being who you are.



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