President Havel was a titan for justice and freedom. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative is proud to have honored President Havel with its Rule of Law Award in 2001 for his significant contributions in the struggle for democratic reforms in Czechoslovakia and later in the Czech Republic.
From a young age, President Havel was a courageous and powerful advocate for justice. He wrote a number of influential articles, including the seminal “Power of the Powerless,” and helped to establish the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Oppressed in 1979 and a consortium of student groups demanding fundamental changes in the Czechoslovak political system in 1989. The student protests helped give rise to the Velvet Revolution—widespread popular demonstrations in November and December of 1989 that eventually forced the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia out of power. On Dec. 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia. In his inaugural address, he promised to lead the nation to free elections, which he fulfilled in the summer of 1990.
The Federal Assembly re-elected him to the Czechoslovak presidency on July 5, 1990. President Havel was a determined supporter of the Federation of Czechs and Slovaks. The winners of the July 1992 parliamentary elections, however, no longer supported the Federation and thus failed to provide President Havel with the required votes. President Havel retired from public life from mid-July until mid-November 1992, but re-emerged as a presidential candidate when the independence of the Czech nation was imminent. With the independence of the Czech Republic in 1993, Vaclav Havel was elected as its first president. He was re-elected in 1998 and continued his contributions toward democratic and economic reforms, and his enduring example of commitment to justice, throughout his presidency.
Today, we mourn the loss of President Havel, but we celebrate his courage and commitment to freedom.
Established in 1994 and bestowed annually, the Rule of Law Award honors an individual or an organization for their contributions to introduce and promote democratic and market reforms in their country, region and the world.