2014 Tang Prize Laureate in Rule of Law

  • Albie Sachs, 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Rule of Law
  • The 2014 Tang Prize is awarded to Albie Sachs
A- | A+

The 2014 Tang Prize is awarded to Albie Sachs, for his many contributions to human rights and justice globally through an understanding of the rule of law in which the dignity of all persons is respected and the strengths and values of all communities are embraced, in particular through his efforts in the realization of the rule of law in a free and democratic South Africa, working as activist, lawyer, scholar, and framer of a new Constitution to heal the divisions of the past and to establishing a society that respects diversity and is based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

The Tang Prize in Rule of Law
Founded by Dr. Samuel Yin in December 2012, the Tang Prize recognizes scholars conducting revolutionary research in the four major fields: Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and the Rule of Law. The Prize is awarded on a biennial basis, with each category be awarded in the amount of no less than NT$40 million (around US $1,340,000) in prize money. An additional NT$10 million (around US $ 330,000) grant will also be allocated for carrying out plans to facilitate further research or nurture talents in the field.

The Tang Prize in Rule of Law (ROL Prize) is awarded to individual(s) or institution(s) who have made significant contributions to the rule of law, reflected not only in the achievement of the candidate(s) in the advancement of legal theory or practice, but also in the realization of the rule of law in contemporary societies through the influences or inspiration of the work of the candidate(s).

Selection for the ROL Prize
The Tang Prize Foundation has entrusted Academia Sinica with the responsibility of organizing the nomination and selection of the Prize winners. For that purpose, a committee of experts from the major jurisdictions of the world was composed. Convinced of the potential in promoting the profile of the rule of law of the ROL initiative -- being the first major prize devoted to recognition of legal work --, all committee members have made extraordinary efforts in seeking the most suitable laureate for the first ROL Prize. From over forty candidates submitted from all over the world, the committee, applying the award criteria of “originality” and “impact” described above, scrutinized the nominations in three rounds, and made its recommendation of the winner of the 2014 Prize in April 2014, which was approved by the Board of Directors of the Tang Prize Foundation.

Recipient of the 2014 ROL Prize
Albie Sachs was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1935. At age 17, he joined the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. Since graduated at age 21 with a law degree, he practiced law, often in defense of people charged under racial statutes and security laws under apartheid. As a result of his work, he was placed in solitary confinement and subjected to torture by sleep deprivation and intensive interrogation, which led to his exile to England in 1966.

In 1966, Sachs published an account of his incarceration, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, which was adapted into a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company and later dramatized for British television in 1981. His 1974 book Justice in South Africa, based on his doctoral thesis at the University of Sussex, provided an insightful narrative on the development of the intricate and sophisticated legal system in South Africa, which enforced racial discrimination and apartheid. This was an example of rule by law rather than rule of law. His pioneering book with Joan Hoff Wilson in 1978, Sexism and the Law, studied the historical discrimination against women, by documenting the role played by the judiciary in Britain and the United States, which enriched his subsequent practice in the related areas of constitutional law.

In 1977, Sachs moved to Mozambique to help build up a new legal system for the recently liberated African country, at the same time worked closely with Oliver Tambo, the president of the ANC. In 1985 he drafted the Code of Conduct and Statutes for the ANC, establishing standards of treatment as well as procedural guarantees for those detained on suspicion of spying for the apartheid government, establishing the rule of law for a liberation organization in exile. In April 1988, Sachs survived a bomb placed in his car by South African security services, losing an arm and the sight of one eye. He told the story of his recovery from injuries in his book Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, the core idea being that “to get freedom, democracy, and the rule of law was a much more powerful vengeance than to subject the people who had done these things to us to the same harm”. His personal sacrifice, vividly portrayed in the image of “roses and lilies” growing out of his amputated arm as freedom is achieved, powerfully symbolizes the reconciliation process in the democratic South Africa that was about to be realized.

During that time, Sachs had been working on drafting the Bill of Rights for the democratic South Africa. His was a strong voice espousing an emancipatory view of a Bill of Rights. Indeed, the new Constitution was built on a belief that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” Besides enshrining the fundamental principles of dignity, equality and freedom, emphasis is put on second and third generation of rights, to bring about transformation of an oppressive society into a democratic and just one. The concept of harmony achieved through close and sympathetic social relations within the community of persons whose individual dignity is respected, may be attributed to the African philosophy of Ubuntu. He drew inspirations from the traditional African concept of “justice under a tree” in designing the logo and the building of the Constitutional Court, its site been transformed from a notorious prison into a testimony of the paramount importance of the Constitution for human rights protection.

Since appointed by Nelson Mandela in 1994 to the new Constitutional Court, Justice Sachs assisted in authoring many of the Court’s most important decisions and in building its reputation as one of the most important sources of transformative human rights jurisprudence in the world. In terms of the rule of law, the Constitutional Court was noteworthy for its willingness to rule against the government. Further, the Court added strong support to the justiciability of socio-economic rights. In the landmark case Home Affairs v. Fourie in 2005, Justice Sachs authored the Court’s opinion that legalized same-sex marriage in South Africa, primarily on the ground that exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefits and responsibilities of marriage constituted a violation of the constitutional guarantees of equal rights and human dignity.

Justice Sachs has been a visionary and an acute writer and commentator. On the bench of the Constitutional Court, his judicial writings have been widely regarded to be particularly eloquent and among those of the highest quality. The working process of the judicial mind was candidly explained in his 2009 book The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. Further, he has been a pioneer in the transnational judicial dialogue, promoting the practice of reading and citing decisions of courts across jurisdictions. His lectures in many parts of the globe have helped many in their understanding of the various aspects of human rights protection and constitutionalism. His views on constitutional law issues have the potential of changing or influencing scholars, lawyers outside and inside government, and social movements in many parts of the world.

Through his personal story, his constitutional wisdom, and his clear articulation of many complex issues concerning justice and human rights, Albie Sachs stands out as one of the most influential contemporary advocates for the rule of law. His views, backed up by unyielding choices of integration over differences and inclusiveness while preserving diversity, offer significant inspiration for societies dealing with issues of division, reconciliation, and the rule of law.