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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navi Pillay presents the Helen Kanzira Memorial Lecture

On Tuesday 15 May 2012, Ms Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the Annual Helen Kanzira Memorial Lecture at the University of Pretoria.

Helen Kanzira was an alumnus of the pioneer class of the Master of Laws in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa at the Centre for Human Rights. Helen passed away in Uganda following complications during childbirth.

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In commemoration of her spirit and dedication to human rights in Africa, the Centre for Human rights instituted the lecture to raise awareness on issues of women’s reproductive health rights.

In the lecture titled: ‘Valuing women as autonomous beings: Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights’, Ms Pillay illustrated the link between reproductive health and women’s human rights and provided an overview of the international human rights framework for the protection of women’s reproductive health rights. She hailed South Africa as a possible model for ensuring protection of women’s reproductive health rights and indicated that even though implementation was still to be achieved, the legal and policy framework were in place. She also indicated that in many parts of the world women are still burdened by poverty and therefore, reproductive health rights remained elusive. Commendably, Ms Pillay did not keep silent on sensitive issues such as abortion and rights relating to sexual orientation emphasising that human rights belong to everyone.

The floor was opened for questions following the lecture and the High Commissioner welcomed suggestions on how to best to advance women’s reproductive health rights.

The event was attended by approximately 200 guests who included members of the diplomatic corps, members of the general public, students and staff of the University of Pretoria. MsYanine Poc, the Regional Representative of the Southern Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Prof Cheryl de la Rey, the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria were also present.

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