Pillay, a trailblazer in Human Rights Law, was born in 1941 to a humble Indian family in apartheid South Africa. She faced enormous obstacles to her aspirations for further education and a meaningful career. However, in 1967 she was the first black woman in South Africa to set up a law practice which she used to defend many anti-apartheid activists. She also used her skills to protect the rights of political prisoners and remarkably, in 1973, she succeeded in obtaining legal representation and basic amenities for the inmates of Robben Island.
In 1995 when the first democratic government was formed in South Africa, Nelson Mandela nominated Pillay as the first black female judge in the Supreme Court. In the same year she joined the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Since then Pillay has become one the world's leading advocates in the field of human rights.
The biography of Navi Pillay is part of Arcadia's BlackAmber Inspiration series edited by Rosemarie Hudson, founder of BlackAmber. These pocket-sized biographies, aimed at students and general readers alike, celebrate African, Caribbean and Asian heroes.