A Voice for the Underprivileged: Canadian Jurist Arbour Awarded 2016 Tang Prize in Rule of Law
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Today, in the last of four prize announcement conferences, the 2016 Tang Prize in Rule of Law was announced in Taipei. Louise Arbour was named as the recipient of the international prize “for her enduring contributions to international criminal justice and the protection of human rights, to promoting peace, justice and security at home and abroad, and to working within the law to expand the frontiers of freedom for all.”


The announcement for Rule of Law was made in absentia by former Academia Sinica President and 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Yuan Tseh Lee. Seated at the announcement table were a panel of experts in the field of law: C. V. Chen, Board Member of the Tang Prize Foundation, and Raymond C-E Sung, a PhD candidate at Oxford University and an expert in international law. Hsu Yu-hsiu, a Former Justice of the Judicial Yuan of Taiwan introduced the achievements of the laureate. Tang Prize Foundation CEO Jenn-Chuan Chern delivered the opening remarks to this, the last of the 2016 announcements.


Arbour began her career of ensuring equal protection under the law in her work on criminal procedure. The 1996 Arbour Report, an eponymous report written by Arbour as commissioner, was an investigation into the conditions of a certain prison in Canada, the Prison for Women in Kingston. This year marks the 20th anniversary of that landmark report, which called for reform of detention centers. In addition to her seminal report on reform of the correction services, Arbour’s judicial pronouncements demonstrated her standing for the rights of women, disabled children, minorities, and prisoners, themes that Arbour would champion throughout her career.


Hsu noted that among Arbour’s multiple contributions to the rule of law, the most important, and the most widely known, were those made during her tenure as Chief Prosecutor for both the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR). She aimed in these tribunals to bring to justice not only the soldiers on the ground who had committed war crimes, but also the leaders who ordered them. After carefully constructing her case, gathering the evidence, and interviewing the witnesses, Arbour had nearly everything she needed—all except apprehending the defendants, many of whom were top-level generals and heads of state. “Bringing these people to justice was a huge challenge in terms of international law,” stressed Sung at the announcement. But, while working within the law, Arbour was able to not only build a solid case, she was also able to bring each of the defendants to the court and try them within the law. Securing the effectiveness of international criminal justice by her efforts, Arbour played a pivotal role in laying the foundation for the legal regimes of the international criminal courts and tribunals that followed ICTY and ICTR.


Coming from a background in criminal law, the transition to the international tribunal was another challenge for Arbour. When she came to act as Criminal Prosecutor for the UN Tribunals, an international court, she made certain that the court would operate under criminal procedure. The rigorous observance of legal standards also contributed to the administration of justice in the criminal tribunals.


From the Arbour Report to her indefatigable persistence on the tribunals, Arbour never relented from ensuring that the rule of law protected everyone, even those at the fringes of society. In her career, which ranges boldly across criminal procedure, civil liberties, and gender issues, Arbour has remained an untiring voice for the sufferers of war and conflict, as well as people whose rights have been neglected to the peripherals of public awareness.


Her efforts in bringing war criminals to trial “gives us pause to the importance to the rule of law,” said C.V. Chen. As Chen argued in his address at the event, in the current world the rule of law underpins human developments in other areas, such as those identified by the Tang Prize—sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, and sinology, all of which have become crucial for understanding the 21st century. Chen stressed that the rule of law is an important fundament that protects and allows the other disciplines to stand.


The Rule of Law is the last field of the Tang Prize to be announced for 2016, the second year of the international prize. This year’s awardees were announced June 18-21, and will receive the medal, diploma, and cash prize at the award ceremony on September 25 in Taipei.