Oxford legal scholar urges International Law Association to rescind award to Navi Pillay

A prominent British legal scholar and member of the House of Lords today joined UN Watch in calling on the American Branch of the International Law Association to rescind its planned October 21st award to Navi Pillay, on account of her gross breach of ethics and the principles of justice. See letter below.


Letter to Professor Michael P. Scharf, President, American Branch of the International Law Association, October 5, 2023

Dear Professor Scharf,

We are shocked that the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) plans to present Navi Pillay with an “Outstanding Achievement Award” on October 21st. Her gross breach of ethics in presiding over a notorious UN commission, as documented below, utterly disqualifies her from such an award.

In July 2021, Ms. Pillay accepted to chair a Pakistani-sponsored UN Commission of Inquiry into alleged Israeli crimes, including those arising from the May 2021 war with Hamas, as well as “repression based on national, ethnic, racial, or religious identity.”

The rules of due process require that fact-finders in the human rights field be impartial. According to Professor Thomas M. Franck, former president of the American Society of International Law, this requirement implies that “persons conducting an investigation should be, and should be seen to be, free of commitment to a preconceived outcome.” This principle is codified in the UN’s own rules which disqualify fact-finders whose prior public statements could impact their impartiality or create perceptions of bias.

Yet prior to accepting this post, Pillay had publicly pronounced herself, in extreme terms, on the very issues that her inquiry is mandated to investigate. In June 2020, she signed a manifesto calling on governments to “Sanction Apartheid Israel.” In June 2021, a month before heading the inquiry, Pillay wrote a letter to President Biden calling to punish Israel for the May 2021 war with Hamas. She has made many more prior prejudicial pronouncements. (See UN Watch’s Request for Navi Pillay to Recuse Herself For Bias or the Appearance Thereof.)

This not all. In July 2022, Pillay’s fellow commissioner Miloon Kothari railed against “the Jewish Lobby” and questioned Israel’s right to be a member state of the UN. Mr. Kothari was condemned by the world’s leading democracies, and by top UN officials including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Astonishingly, however, Navi Pillay defended him.

Last year, after learning of these disturbing facts, the Mayor of Berlin withdrew her support for a Town Hall event set to honor Navi Pillay, and the award was canceled. As an organization dedicated to justice, we urge ABILA likewise to rescind this award.


Baroness Ruth Deech DBE KC
Former Principal of St Anne’s College, University of Oxford

Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director, United Nations Watch

UN Watch