On June 10, the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation announced that it will award its 2009 International Justice Prize to Bryan Stevenson, Professor of Clinical Law and director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), and to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), for their "tireless advocacy of human rights for individuals belonging to oppressed groups that historically have not had an effective voice in, or access to, the justice system."
The two winners, who will split a $500,000 award, will be honored at a ceremony this fall. The Prize is presented to individuals or organizations for contributions that advance the cause of justice as delivered through the legal system. Judge Thomas Buergenthal '60 of the International Court of Justice was one of the recipients of last year's Prize.
EJI represents indigent defendants, death row inmates, and juveniles who it believes have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system, and the organization has largely been responsible for reversals and reduced sentences in more than 75 death penalty cases. Stevenson has provided an effective training and consulting resource for counsel representing death row inmates and is spearheading litigation in 19 states to get a fair review of sentencing and parole-eligible re-sentencing. He has consistently been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America.
ERRC, an international public interest law organization that combats anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma in Europe, has set in motion more than 500 court cases in 15 countries to bring to justice state and non-state actors who have discriminated against Romani individuals in education, housing, employment, healthcare and other areas, or have committed violence against them.
“In securing access to justice for those most in need of protection from discrimination – including, at times, discrimination within the legal system itself – Bryan Stevenson and ERRC assist oppressed minorities in developing the voice and arguments they need to demand equal justice under law," said U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald of the Western District of Tennessee, a member of the prize committee, in a statement about the recipients of this year’s prize. "Their work is a model for human rights advocacy and presents a compelling case for the necessity of focusing on and developing public interest law in legal education and practice.”
Stevenson’s share of the prize money will go into EJI’s budget, which lost a vital source of funding when a major donor lost money in the investments of financier Bernard Madoff. The funds will advance EJI's work representing people in prison who cannot afford legal assistance and challenging sentences of life imprisonment without parole imposed on young children throughout the United States.
Posted on June 18, 2009