As Elin mentioned yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize will be given out on Thursday in Oslo, Norway. I was interested in the recipients this year, the National Dialogue Quartet, and while researching I found that one quarter of this organization was the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. That piqued my interest as to how many other recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize were lawyers, especially after Elin mentioned that Mr. Nobel was not a fan of lawyers.
Identifying Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyers proved much more difficult than I thought. The concept of peace is integrally linked with good government, politicians, and the law, as depicted through Elihu Vedder’s murals in the Library of Congress. Good laws work to preserve peace while bad laws are anathema to peace. As the law is intertwined with peace, so too is the law intertwined with the lives of many of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients.
Some Peace Prize recipients were trained lawyers with legal degrees. Others did not have legal degrees, but the nature of their work meant that they worked closely with the law. For example, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 and was United States president from 1901-1909, but did not have a legal background, so he is not included in this list. Today I will highlight 14 of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients who had legal training or worked as lawyers and were leaders of their country before, during, or after they received the Prize.The first and most recent lawyer-recipient is President Barack H. Obama who won the Prize in 2009, his first year as the United States president. He graduated from Harvard Law School and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. President Woodrow Wilson, recipient in 1919, is the only other U.S. president with a legal background to be awarded the Prize. Wilson graduated from the law school of the University of Virginia and taught constitutional law at New York Law School, as well as several other teaching positions.
Like Presidents Obama and Wilson, two other Prize-winners have a legal education and experience as law school professors: David Trimble and Mohamed ElBaradei.
David Trimble won the award in 1998 for peacefully resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland as the leader of Northern Ireland’s Protestant party. He graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1968 “with a first-class honours degree in Law.” After being called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1969, he became a lecturer in law and eventually head of the Commercial and Property Law Department.
Mohamed ElBaradei received his Bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Cairo and a doctorate in international law from the New York University School of Law in 1974. He won the Prize in 2005 for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and for slowing the proliferation of nuclear arms. He became the senior fellow in charge of the international law program at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research while also working as an adjunct professor of international law at the New York University School of Law. After receiving the award, he became president of Egypt’s Constitution Party, opposed President Mohamed Morsi, and after the coup d’etat in 2013 served as vice president.
Several recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize trained as lawyers and studied law but did not appear to practice. They instead used their legal backgrounds to transition into politics and eventually became leaders in their countries. José Ramos-Horta was one such recipient. He studied public international law at the Hague Academy of International Law and trained in human rights law at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He opposed Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and eventually opened a dialogue with Indonesia and presented a peace plan for an autonomous East Timor. He won the Prize in 1996 for “work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor” and later became president of that country from 2007-2012.
Menachem Begin received his law degree in 1935 from Warsaw University and became prime minister of Israel in 1977. He was awarded the prize in 1978 for his role in negotiating a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev studied law at Moscow University and became executive president of the Soviet Union in 1989. He was awarded the Peace Prize in 1990 for bringing a peaceful end to the Cold War.
Oscar Arias Sánchez won the award in 1987 for his work in ending civil wars in Central America, bringing peace and stability to the region. He studied law and economics at the University of Costa Rica and was elected president of Costa Rica in 1985.
Eisaku Sato trained as a lawyer at Tokyo Imperial University, majoring in German jurisprudence. Sato entered politics and became prime minister in 1964. He won the Peace Prize in 1974 for leading Japan as it entered the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Aristide Briand studied law in Paris and established a practice, but preferred journalism and politics. He served as prime minister of France multiple times between 1909 and 1929. He was awarded the Peace Prize in 1926 for his work leading to Franco-German reconciliation and the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
Frederik Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa. As president of South Africa, de Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990. Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994. Mandela studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, took the qualifying exam in 1952, and became one of South Africa’s first black lawyers. de Klerk graduated with a law degree from Potchefstroom University in 1958 and practiced law in Vereeniging in the Transvaal of South Africa.In 1920, Léon Victor Auguste Bourgeois received the prize for being the “spiritual father” of the League of Nations and oversaw the creation of an international court established in the Hague. He attended law school at the University of Paris and practiced law for several years before turning to politics. He became prime minister in 1895 and over the course of his political career he held nearly every major office available in the French government.
Finally, we have “one of Belgium’s most skillful lawyers,” Auguste Marie François Beernaert. He earned a doctorate in law in 1851 with the highest distinction from the University of Louvain and was admitted to the bar in 1853. He served as a clerk, studied the status of legal education in France and Germany, wrote and earned a reputation as a scholar, and had a thriving practice. In 1873 he gave up his practice for politics and eventually became prime minister of Belgium. Later in his life he returned to legal practice as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague and represented Mexico in the first case to be brought before the Court in 1902. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1909 for his efforts to promote pacifism and international law.
The 14 Nobel Laureates I highlighted today all had formal legal training and led their respective countries before, during, or after they received the Nobel Peace Prize. Tomorrow I will highlight 19 more Nobel Peace Prize winners with legal training who greatly influenced international politics and diplomacy to bring about peace.