Ms Pillay was a judge on the UN's Rwanda war crimes tribunal
South African judge Navanethem Pillay has been nominated as the new UN high commissioner for human rights.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has informed the General Assembly of his choice for the nomination.
The General Assembly will now be asked to approve the choice of Ms Pillay, who is currently an appeals judge at the International Criminal Court.
She would succeed Louise Arbour, who stepped down in March for personal reasons after four years in the post.
Ms Pillay, who is of Tamil descent, was born in 1941 and previously served as a judge on the UN war crimes tribunal for Rwanda.
In 1967 she became the first woman to start a law practice in Natal Province, and the first non-white woman to serve in the High Court in South Africa.
While practising in South Africa, Ms Pillay defended anti-apartheid activists and championed the rights of Nelson Mandela and other dissidents to legal assistance.