Noted South African lawyer George Bizos who fled as a refugee from the Nazi occupation of Greece and ended up as one of the world’s top human rights lawyers, defending Nelson Mandela in many of his trials during the anti-apartheid struggle and helping win his release from prison, died on Wednesday at the age of 92.
Bizos, known as one of the icons of South Africa’s fight for democracy, died of natural causes at his home in Johannesburg, his family announced.
“George Bizos is one of those lawyers who contributed immensely to the attainment of our democracy,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised statement, calling him one of the architects of the country’s constitution.
Bizos, a human rights champion his entire life, defended Mandela in the 1960s during the Rivonia Trial, named after a suburban locality on the outskirts of Johannesburg where many apartheid opponents were hiding in a farm.
The friendship between Bizos and Mandela spanned more than seven decades and was legendary,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a nonprofit organisation, said in a statement.
Born in Greece in 1927, Bizos came to South Africa in 1941 at the age of 13 as a World War Two refugee and settled in Johannesburg. He completed his law degree at the University of Witwatersrand in 1951.
As member of the Legal Resource Center, a public-interest litigation organization, Bizos led a team for the government to pass the Constitution in 1996, represented people who were victims of apartheid atrocities, and fought for families whose members were murdered in detention. He also played an instrumental role in the negotiations for the release of Nelson Mandela.
Bizos was also an outspoken advocate for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and spoke at numerous conferences and authored a number of legal statements on the matter.
As a member of the British Committee for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, he legally argued for the treasures’ return to Athens and was passionate about their return, arguing, that in addition to the legal issue, “it would be the right thing to do.”
“The people of Greece, of the Diaspora and the Philhellenes of the world cannot rest until the Parthenon Marbles are restored to their home. It would enhance the friendship between the people of Greece and those in the United Kingdom. It would be the right thing to do,” Bizos argued in one position paper.
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