TAIPEI, Taiwan (Press Release) — Former lawyer and activist Albie Sachs was awarded Taiwan’s first annual Tang Prize in Rule of Law for his contributions to human rights and justice globally. The Jewish human rights activist from South Africa, 79, will receive a cash prize of US$1 million.
The Tang awards are a kind of Asian Nobel prize awarded to people of all nationalities and funded by a Taiwanese philanthropist. The awards will be handed out annually.
A lawyer and human rights activist who spent his lifetime fighting apartheid in South Africa, Sachs 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, 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,” Taiwan’s own Nobel laureate Dr. Lee Yuan-tseh said in Taipei. Dr Lee chairs the Tang Prize Selection Committee.
Born to politically active Jewish parents, the young Sachs joined South Africa’s 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, was several times imprisoned and tortured. He went into exile in 1966 and spent the next 24 years studying, teaching and writing in Britain 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.”
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. It stipulates 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 South African Constitutional Court abolished the death penalty, overturned anti-homosexuality laws and legalized same-sex marriage.
The former justice of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, Sachs is married to Vanessa Sachs and the couple have a son Oliver.
Taiwan’s Tang Prize awards 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.
Preceding was provided by the Tang Prize Selection Committee in Taiwan