Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade

2020 Balzan Prize for Human Rights

For his fundamental theoretical and jurisprudential contributions to the definition and creation of a global juridical order based on the principle that all of humanity must constitute the subject of an international legal system open to individual appeals to justice and that may also be imposed upon nation-states.

Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, born in 1947 (*1947 – †2022) in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Brasília and since 2009 a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, taught for thirty years at Brasília and was a judge for and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an exemplary institution that demonstrates the pathbreaking role played by Latin America in the sphere of human rights. The author of dozens of monographs and hundreds of articles, Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade enjoys undisputed authority in the field of public international law.

All of Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade’s work centres on the subject of human rights. To this, he has devoted an enormous amount of research which was brought together for a course in Public International Law held at the Hague Academy of International Law in 2005. The material was published as a volume in 2012 and is now in its third updated printing, published in Leiden in 2020. The book’s title and subtitle, International Law for Humankind: Towards a New Jus Gentium, clearly express the goal of the author’s research. He approaches the topic from a triple perspective: historical, legal, and practical.

Discussion of the historical premises that from antiquity led to the modern doctrines of jus gentium developed by the School of Salamanca, Grotius, and other thinkers of natural law is extended to a thorough examination of the juridical discipline that from 1920 to 1945 gave rise to the International Court of Justice at The Hague as well as the two international courts devoted to defending human rights: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José (Costa Rica) and the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg. The author’s investigation analyzes not only the legislative regulations of human rights, including the fundamental development of the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and of the 1970s as well as subsequent rights declarations, but also the theses and debates of jurists on the effects of these regulations. Furthermore, the author pays special attention to the legal workings of the aforementioned courts as well as international proceedings (for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and others) whose historic rulings have in recent years sparked new ideas on human rights and the consequences of their violation.

The foundation of international public law; its normative, customary, doctrinal, and jurisprudential sources; the individual and collective subjects of human rights defense; all humankind taken as the subject of international law and as a deserving recipient of its protection (an extraordinarily powerful thesis, which is central in our author’s doctrine and reflected in the title of the above-cited work); the theory of a veritable right to peace: these are just a few of the chapters of this magisterial work of synthesis, which concludes with a reasoned defense of the thesis that the legal and jurisdictional protection of human rights cannot and must not be questioned or limited by nation-states but must be recognized as a true and peremptory norm (jus cogens). No less important is his thesis in the volume The Access of Individuals to International Justice (Oxford UP, 2011) which argues that access to international justice must be available to individuals and not only to states, as opposed to an earlier doctrine reflected in the ordinance of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Such an arrangement, as proposed by the author in reference to all of the major themes mentioned here, is far from having received full recognition by nations, but has nonetheless gained unprecedented ground in part due to the meritorious work of the aforementioned great courts of justice.

It must be added that Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, as a judge first in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and now in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, has played a leading role in the sphere of human rights, guiding some of the most important legal decisions on the matter. His positions, at times expressed in dissenting opinions or in additional and supplementary opinions, have made him a leader in international human rights law. In this sense, therefore, there is complete consistency between the author’s scholarly theses and judicial decisions on this subject. It is rare to find a jurist who brings together these two essential dimensions of law, theory and practice, on a matter of such great prominence.

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