Former South African judge wins Tang Prize in Rule of Law (Focus Taiwan)

2014.06.21
  • Albie Sachs, 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Rule of Law
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Taipei, June 21 (CNA) Albie Sachs, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, became the first winner of the Tang Prize in Rule of Law on Saturday for his contributions to human rights and justice around the world.

Sachs, a lawyer and human rights activist who spent his lifetime fighting apartheid, helped write the new Constitution of South Africa and was appointed by late South African president Nelson Mandela in 1994 to serve as a justice of the Constitutional Court - a position he held until 2009.

The 79-year-old will receive a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.33 million) and a research grant of up to NT$10 million to be used within five years, as well as a medal and a certificate.

The Tang Prize is awarded to 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 [establish] a society that respects diversity and is based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights," Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh read from the citation.

Lee, who chairs the Tang Prize Selection Committee, announced the award winner at a ceremony in Taipei.

Born to politically active parents of a Jewish family, Sachs joined the anti-apartheid movement at the age of 17. After gaining his law degree at 21, he defended people charged under repressive apartheid laws and, as a result, underwent several instances of imprisoning and torture.

He went into exile in 1966 and spent the next 24 years studying, teaching and writing in the United Kingdom and Mozambique.

During the 1980s, Sachs helped draft the Code of Conduct and Statutes for the African National Congress (ANC), which prohibits torture of detainees under any circumstances.

In 1988, South African security agents planted a bomb in his car that blew off his right arm and blinded him in one eye, a story recounted in his autobiographical book "The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter."

"To get freedom was a much more powerful vengeance than to subject the people who had done these things to us to the same harm," Sachs wrote in the book.

"If the person accused in a Mozambique Court of being responsible for placing the bomb in my car is put on trial and the evidence is insufficient and he is acquitted, that will be my soft vengeance, because we will be living under the rule of law," he wrote.

Sachs returned to his homeland in 1990 after Mandela and other ANC leaders were released from prison, where he played a key role in drafting South Africa's new Constitution and Bill of Rights, a human rights charter contained in the Constitution that lays down the fundamental rights of all South Africans.

South Africa's Bill of Rights is regarded as one of the most progressive constitutional documents in the world.

Listed are not only traditional civil rights such as the freedom of expression and the right to assemble, but also the rights to housing, education, healthcare, food, water and social security.

During Sachs' tenure as a judge, the Constitutional Court abolished the death penalty, overturned anti-homosexuality laws and legalized same-sex marriage.

In the landmark Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie case in 2005, Sachs authored the court's decision that legalized same-sex marriage in South Africa, making South Africa the fifth country to recognize such unions.

Sachs has honorary doctorates from over a dozen universities, including Princeton, Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh.

He is also the author of several books, including "Justice in South Africa" (1974), "Sexism and the Law" (1979) and "The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law" (2009). His writings and lectures have had a great influence on scholars and lawyers around the world.

The Tang Prize was established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin to honor top researchers and leaders in four fields: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law. Laureates are selected based on the originality and impact of their achievements, irrespective of nationality or ethnicity.

Winners of the award are selected by panels of judges convened by Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institute. The panels comprise prominent researchers and scholars from Taiwan and abroad, including Nobel laureates.

Up to three winners in each category can share a cash prize of NT$40 million and a research grant of up to NT$10 million. An award ceremony for the winners in all four categories will take place Sept. 18 in Taipei.

The Tang Prize in Rule of Law recognizes individuals or institutions that have made significant contributions to rule of law, not only in the advancement of legal theory or practice but also in the realization of rule of law in contemporary societies through their works, according to the Tang Prize Foundation.

Earlier this week, former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland was named the winner of the prize in sustainable development; James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan shared the prize in biopharmaceutical science, and Chinese American historian Yu Ying-shih won the prize in sinology.

The biennial prize takes its name from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), a period considered to be the height of classical Chinese civilization, characterized by liberal policies and robust cultural activity.