Former High Court Judge, Michael Kirby has become the first Australian to win the internationally renowned Gruber Justice Prize.
Kirby joins two others as champions of oppressed populations to share the $US500,000 Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize recognized for significantly advancing human rights under law for victimised groups.
The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation announced that its 2010 Justice Prize will be awarded to Michael Kirby, John Dugard from South Africa, and the Indian Law Resource Center, for contributions to international law and the advancement of human rights and rule of law.
The citation says Michael Kirby has defended victims of unjust regimes and promoted the cause of international human rights including, in particular, law relating to privacy, data security, bioethics, and HIV/AIDS. He has been active in law reform and the promotion of human rights both in his own country and internationally. As chair of the Executive Committee of the International Commission of Jurists, and later as its president, as well as through organs of the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Australia, he has promoted the cause of international human rights and come to the defense of victims of unjust regimes.
It says his work has had an impact on the legal culture of many countries.
John Dugard, respected worldwide for his courage and scholarship, has championed the development of international human rights law. Having challenged the injustice of apartheid law from within South Africa, he participated in the constitutional negotiations leading to the adoption of their human rights–based constitution.
For over thirty years the Indian Law Resource Center has exposed human rights violations against indigenous peoples in the Americas, using international law to assert their claims. The Center was a leading participant in the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Justice Prize will be awarded in a ceremony in October in Washington DC celebrating the achievements of the recipients, who will share the $500,000 prize.
Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Gruber Justice Prize Selection Committee Chair says the commitment of this year’s Justice Prize recipients reflects their dedicated humanity from different continents.
He says Michael Kirby, John Dugard and the Indian Law Resource Center demonstrate what is possible when able, compassionate people use law on behalf of others historically denied access to the full spectrum of individual rights that many more fortunate people take for granted.
He says their taking principled and public stands in the name of human rights shows how powerfully this can move us towards achieving an impact on the recognition of those rights by political, legal and cultural institutions.
Born in Sydney, Michael Kirby was appointed to the High Court of Australia in 1996, where he became known as Australia’s “Great Dissenter.” Kirby attributes his differences from the majority to his attention to international law and human rights as foundations for Australian common law.
In the 1970s, he chaired the OECD panel that created the guidelines that were to serve as the basis for modern privacy and data security law in the US, Europe and New Zealand, as well as in his own country. From 1988 to 1992, he served as a member of the WHO’s Inaugural Global Commission on AIDS. In 2001 and 2002, he chaired a UNAIDS Expert Panel on HIV Testing of Peacekeeping Operations and served on the UNAIDS Expert Group on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights. In Cambodia, he insisted that human rights included responding to the AIDS epidemic, and, although the Cambodian government argued at first that it was a matter for health workers, Kirby’s insistence helped steer Cambodia to a downward trend in HIV infections in that country. From 1995 to 2005, he served on the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO, where he chaired the group that drafted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. During those same years, he served on the Ethics Committee of the Human Genome Organization.
Kirby chaired the Executive Committee of the International Commission of Jurists and from 1995 to 1998, served as that organisation’s president. In 1992 and 1993, as part of an International Labor Organization mission, he delivered a report on South Africa’s labor laws, later implemented by the government of Nelson Mandela. He also served as Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Human Rights in Cambodia and Independent Chairman of the Constitutional Conference of Malawi.
He is currently rapporteur of the International Group on Judicial Integrity, whose international guidelines on judicial integrity were endorsed by ECOSOC in 2006. In 1991 he received the Australian Human Rights Medal. Kirby was the first judge of any final national court in the world who was open about his homosexuality. He has lived in Sydney, Australia, for 41 years with his partner, Johan van Vloten.
In addition to the cash award, recipients receive a medal of honor and citation.
The law Council has congratulated Michael Kirby on the Award saying he is a worthy recipient.
Law Council President Glenn Ferguson says Kirby has had an outstanding career as a judge and made an extraordinary contribution to the law and society.
Ferguson says his commitment to human rights and justice issues in particular will be long remembered both nationally and internationally, and he is most deserving of this prize.
On learning of the announcement, Michael Kirby was typically humble saying he is conscious of the many people with whom he has worked over the years on human rights and justice who are equally deserving of recognition.