Capital punishment violates human dignity: Sachs

2014/09/22 18:21:00
Capital punishment violates human dignity: Sachs

Sept. 19 (CNA) Capital punishment is a violation of human dignity, Albie Sachs, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa who became the first Tang Prize laureate for the rule of law, said Friday in Taipei.

Sachs said he and other justices on the Constitutional Court of South Africa had unanimously decided that capital punishment was inconsistent with the value system of the South African constitution.

"It was disrespectful of life, it was cruel, it was a violation of human dignity," the 79-year-old said during a press conference when asked to comment on Taiwan's continued use of the death penalty.

And it violated not just the dignity of the executed person, but "all our dignity," Sachs added.

Capital punishment was abolished in South Africa in 1995 during Sachs' tenure as a justice of the Constitutional Court.

Although it was not a popular decision at that time, Sachs said the judges felt it was a decision that needed to be made to protect the fundamental rights of every individual.

Sachs, a lawyer and human rights activist who spent much of his life 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 Tang Prize was 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," according to the citation of the prize.

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.

In 1988, South African security agents planted a bomb in his car that blew off his right arm and blinded him in one eye.

Despite these ordeals, Sachs said he never felt rage or that fate had been unfair and unkind to him because he knew he was part of a movement and it was part of the risk he and other freedom fighters had to take to change the unjust apartheid system.

"We weren't fighting against white people, we were fighting against an unjust system," he said.

The sustained support and love from other people in the struggle also kept him going, he said.

(By Christie Chen)
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