Former South African judge 'proud' to receive Tang Prize

2014/09/22 18:06:00
Former South African judge 'proud' to receive Tang Prize

Taipei, Sept. 18 (CNA) Albie Sachs, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, described himself Thursday as "overwhelmingly proud" to receive the Tang Prize in Rule of Law, as well as being proud of the achievements of his country.

"I'm still a big shell-shocked," Sachs, 79, said during his acceptance speech at the first Tang Prize award ceremony in Taipei after receiving the medal and diploma from President Ma Ying-jeou.

"And yet it is quite wonderful to be honored in this way. I feel overwhelmingly proud," he said. "My role was to be in the wrong place at the right time. I feel proud of my generation, of my country."

Although growing up under apartheid, Sachs said his countrymen have been able to greatly transform South Africa through developing a creative and people-centered view of the law.

"The result is that the once-notorious land of apartheid today lives under the protective shelter of one of the most exemplary constitutions in the world," he said.

He said the Bill of Rights in South Africa's Constitution ensures that the rule of law is not simply a mechanism to guarantee the wealth and power of the privileged in society, but "affirms the right to human dignity of the landless, the homeless, the poor and the marginalized."

Sachs said the rule of law protects people's rights to education, housing, nutrition and health, protects the Earth from damaging depletion, honors the diversity of cultures in the world and promotes creativity.

"May this magnificent prize encourage us, and all in the world, to keep our heads high as we journey arduously towards more complete justice for all," he said.

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.

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.

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.

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

Tang Prize was established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin to honor leading lights from around the world in four fields: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law.

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.

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.

(By Christie Chen)
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