Skip to main content

2005 Gruber Justice Prize Press Release

Param Cumaraswamy Headshot
Param Cumaraswamy

Attorney from Malaysia Wins International Justice Prize

Peter Gruber Foundation Honors Param Cumaraswamy

St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. September, 2005 - In his native Malaysia and in various of the world's hot spots, attorney Param Cumaraswamy, at considerable risk to himself, has stood up for human dignity and the independence of the judiciary. His courage has garnered world respect and this year earned him the Peter Gruber Foundation's Justice Prize.

He receive the Foundation's $200,000 award and gold medal during a ceremony at Columbia University Law School in New York City on September 19th.

Cumaraswamy's now-famous public statement calling on the Pardons Board of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, not to discriminate against a poor laborer's petition for commutation of a death sentence landed him in court in 1985, fighting a charge of sedition. Regional and international bar associations sent representatives to observe the trial. His acquittal was hailed as a landmark victory for freedom of expression in Malaysia.

In 1988 he was one of the few at the forefront of the defense of six Supreme Court judges whose independence apparently threatened executive powers. His efforts on their behalf earned him the title "Dato" conferred by a Sultan in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.

Despite such favorable recognition at home and numerous important international appointments, Cumaraswamy has been the victim of harassment and intimidation. For six years, he lived under the cloud of multi-million dollar defamation actions brought against him for public comments about the existence of outside influence on the Malaysian judiciary. Eventually the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled he had immunity from legal process since he made the comments as the UN Special Rapporteur. The suits were withdrawn in 2001, but by that time he had resigned from his law firm in order to protect it from embarrassment and financial loss.

Born in 1941, Cumaraswamy received his early education in Kuala Lumpur and his law training in London. He began his practice in 1967 and, until his resignation, spent much of it with one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in Malaysia.

He served in various leadership positions on the Bar Council of Malaysia from 1974 to 1998 and was a founding member of the Malaysian Bar Council Human Rights Committee and Legal Aid Committee. From 1986 to 1989 he was chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the International Bar Association. He was a commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists from 1990 to May 2000. In 1994 the UN Commission on Human Rights appointed him the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

He has undertaken missions to Colombia, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Slovakia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and many other countries, to report to the Commission on Human Rights. For his UN role protecting the independence of judges and lawyers, he has intervened in cases of reported violations in more than 100 countries. He has traveled the globe as a guest speaker on human rights and judicial independence. And he maintains a one-man legal practice, devoted in large part to the pursuit of a just rule of law.

A distinguished Advisory Board selected Cumaraswamy as the Justice Prize recipient for 2005 after a worldwide solicitation of candidates. Current members of the Advisory Board are: the Honorable Rosalie Silberman Abella, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and Justice Prize laureate; Dennis Archer, Esq., former mayor of Detroit and immediate past president of the American Bar Association; the Honorable Christine Chanet, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations; Sir Anthony Gubbay, former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe and Justice Prize laureate; and Jerome J. Shestack, Esq., former president of the American Bar Association.

The official citation honoring Cumaraswamy reads:

The 2005 Justice Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Param Cumaraswamy whose voice has been heard around the world for the independence of judges who are the ultimate custodians of the just rule of law that is the foundation for human rights. In a life dedicated to the defense and affirmation of justice, his fearless advocacy for judicial independence has often been at great personal risk and cost. His record serves as a call and as an inspiration to all.

"Justice prevents the exercise of arbitrary power," said Peter Gruber, chairman of the Peter Gruber Foundation. "We are extremely pleased to honor Param Cumaraswamy for standing for justice in his own country and around the world."

Previous winners of the Justice Prize are: retired Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson and current Chief Justice Pius Langa of the Constitutional Court of South Africa (2004); Justice Bertha Wilson, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (2003); Fali Sam Nariman, President of the Bar Association of India (2002); and Sir Anthony Roy Gubbay, former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, and the Law Society of Zimbabwe (2001).

The Peter Gruber Foundation
The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. In recent years the Foundation has expanded its focus to a series of international awards recognizing discoveries and achievements that produce fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture. Further information about the Peter Gruber Foundation and its awards is available from