Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito, president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, has been named the seventh recipient of the O’Connor Justice Prize. She was the first female professor at the University of Costa Rica Law School, founded the Human Rights Institute of Costa Rica and has served as the minister of justice of Costa Rica and as a judge on three international tribunals.
The award, administered by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, was established in 2014 to honor the legacy of the school’s namesake, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It recognizes those who have made extraordinary efforts to advance rule of law, justice and human rights.
“I feel very honored and humbled in receiving the 2021 O’Connor Justice award,” said Benito, former judge of the International Criminal Court. “I am very pleased and truly appreciative to be recognized next to other prominent recipients: Nadia Murad, Anson Chan, Ana Palacio and Navi Pillay, and Presidents Jimmy Carter and FW de Klerk.”
With extensive practical and academic experience in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law, Benito’s decades of teaching, research and leadership around international human rights — and more specifically women’s rights — continue to inspire others.
“I have dedicated my professional career to erase inequality and injustice wherever I have occupied positions in my career,” Benito said. “This award is personally validating and an encouragement for me to continue with my work. The law can be a powerful tool to foment change and to protect the human rights and dignity of those who are the most vulnerable.”
Ambassador Clint Williamson, senior director for international rule of law and security at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and ASU Law distinguished professor of practice said, “For the last 25 years, Elizabeth Odio Benito has had an oversized role in building the institutions and creating the jurisprudence that has come to define our modern framework for international justice. She has dedicated her life to bolstering rule of law in her home country of Costa Rica and globally, and her undying commitment to this cause has had a positive impact on countless people around the world.”
In her broad career in politics and the administration of justice, Benito also became the first woman to serve as the minister of justice and attorney general of Costa Rica. A former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, she has served as an expert consultant to the University for Peace, the United Nations, Costa Rica and the Department of International Relations and Conflict Resolution. Prior to that, Benito served as judge in the trial division of the International Criminal Court and second vice president of the International Criminal Court.
“We are living during very challenging times, and our efforts must be redoubled to create a world that is supportive, inclusive and kind,” Benito said. “I accept this award with a pledge to continue working for human rights, the rule of law and democracy.”
Benito will be presented with the O’Connor Justice Prize in a ceremony in early 2022.
Previous recipients of the O’Connor Justice Prize include:
- Inaugural recipient Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, honored for her fight against apartheid, as well as her championing of international human rights.
- Ana Palacio, honored as the first woman to serve as the foreign affairs minister of Spain, member of the Council of State of Spain and former senior vice president and general counsel of the World Bank Group.
- Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, honored for his humanitarian work since leaving office. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts to find peaceful solutions to conflicts, advance democracy and to promote economic and social development.
- Anson Chan, the former chief secretary of Hong Kong, known as “Hong Kong’s conscience,” honored for her decades of devotion to social justice and democracy. She helped oversee Hong Kong’s transition from British control in 1997.
- FW de Klerk, the former South African president, honored for leading the effort to dismantle that country’s apartheid system and being recognized as co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993.
- Nadia Murad, the acclaimed Yazidi human rights activist, honored for founding a global initiative to advocate for survivors of violence and genocide, becoming the first Iraqi and Yazidi to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 2018.