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Albie Sachs honoured at Clooney Foundation for Justice’s inaugural Albie Awards

Albie Sachs honoured at Clooney Foundation for Justice’s inaugural Albie Awards
Justice Albie Sachs and former first lady Michelle Obama appear onstage at the Clooney Foundation for Justice's inaugural Albie Awards at the New York Public Library on 29 September 2022 in New York City. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for Albie Awards)

South African activist, judge and author Albie Sachs received a lifetime achievement award at a ceremony hosted by the Clooney Foundation for Justice on Thursday night in New York. The awards, attended by A-list celebrities, were named after the retired judge and honoured other activists from around the globe.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice, founded by Amal and George Clooney, honoured Albie Sachs by naming the foundation’s inaugural Albie Award after the judge. Sachs was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Pursuit of Justice at an event held at the New York Public Library on 29 September.

The Albie Awards recognise “courageous defenders of justice who are at great risk for what they do”. The awards aim to highlight the work of journalists, human rights defenders, women, girls and LGBTQI+ rights defenders. 

This year’s recipients were:

  • Filipina journalist Maria Ressa: Justice For Journalists Award
  • iAct, an organisation that supports survivors of genocide in refugee camps: Justice For Survivors Award
  • Belarusian human rights group Viasna: Justice For Democracy Defenders Award
  • Dr Josephine Kulea of the Kenyan-based Samburu Girls Foundation: Justice For Women Award.

Amal George and George Clooney speak onstage during the Clooney Foundation For Justice Inaugural Albie Awards at New York Public Library on September 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Albie Awards)

Maria Ressa speaks onstage at the Clooney Foundation For Justice Inaugural Albie Awards at New York Public Library on September 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Albie Awards)

Aloe Blacc, Amal Clooney and George Clooney speak onstage during the Clooney Foundation For Justice Inaugural Albie Awards at New York Public Library on September 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Albie Awards)

Honoree Justice Albie Sachs and Former First Lady Michelle Obama appear onstage at the Clooney Foundation For Justice Inaugural Albie Awards at New York Public Library on September 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Albie Awards)

(L-R) Alina Stefanovic, Sarah-Christine Dallain, Oumda Alfateh Younous Haroun, Wanjiru Wahome, George Clooney, Amal Clooney, Maria Ressa, Dr. Josephine Kulea and Justice Albie Sachs attend the Clooney Foundation For Justice Inaugural Albie Awards at New York Public Library on September 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Albie Awards)

On naming the awards after Albie Sachs, the Clooneys said: “He has spent his whole life fighting for justice, so we couldn’t think of anyone better than Albie to name the awards after.”

Sachs served on the Constitutional Court, helped prepare the Bill of Rights in South Africa and “never gave up his fight against apartheid even after he lost his arm and sight in one eye in a car bomb when he was targeted for his work”, the Clooneys said.

When the awards were announced in May, Sachs told the SABC: “It’s a huge and unbelievable honour for me. But I think it’s an honour for South Africa, for our judges and for all the people who fought for justice. I think of people like Griffiths Mxenge, who was assassinated and was a wonderful lawyer, Bram Fischer, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo. I’m the living survivor of that generation of freedom fighters who believed in the possibilities of law, who fought for justice.” 

Amal and George Clooney foundation honours Justice Albie Sachs for courageous work fighting for justice

Honouree Justice Albie Sachs and former first lady Michelle Obama. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for Albie Awards)

A-listers

Sachs received the award from Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States. The event was attended by celebrities including Meryl Streep, Tracee Ellis Ross, Gayle King, Julia Roberts and, of course, George and Amal Clooney, the foundation’s co-founders.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice was founded to hold perpetrators of grave injustices to account while helping victims in their fight for justice. The foundation, which operates in more than 40 countries, gathers evidence of human rights abuses and provides legal support to victims. 

“We founded the Clooney Foundation for Justice because we believe in creating a world where human rights are protected and no one is above the law. We believe that justice, like war, must be waged; it doesn’t just happen on its own,” state the Clooneys on the foundation’s website


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Track record

Sachs’ achievements embody the founding principles of the foundation. The South African activist, lawyer, writer and retired judge began a career in human rights activism in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign while studying towards a law degree at the University of Cape Town.

He then began his practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar, aged 21, with much of his work dedicated to defending those charged under the apartheid regime’s racist and oppressive laws. Sachs was detained for 168 days without trial. He went into exile in 1966. He became a victim of a car bomb planted by South African security services in Maputo. He lost his right arm and vision in his left eye in the attack. 

Sachs was appointed by former president Nelson Mandela to serve on the first Constitutional Court Bench. He helped draw up South Africa’s Constitution before he hung up his gown in 2009 after a 15-year career. 

Albie Sachs with the eponymous award, the morning after the awards ceremony, New York, 30 September 2022 (Daily Maverick)

“I feel very joyous that they [the Clooneys] have chosen me, as a South African lawyer … to call the awards the ‘Albies’; my head is still spinning at that idea,” Sachs told the SABC. “There are a lot of other Albies … They might be smiling, knowing that their name is associated with people who have invested themselves in the struggle for justice.” DM/ML

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