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THE INTERNATIONAL Bar Association has amended its constitution to appoint its first honorary member - South African president Nelson Mandela.
The change to the constitution, proposed by Slaughter and May's Francis Neate - chair of the IBA's Section on Business Law (SBL) - was introduced following a vote at the council's recent annual general meeting in Edinburgh.
Mandela, who is speaking at the SBL's 25th anniversary conference in Johannesburg later this year, was appointed following a vote of the full IBA council, which includes representatives of 167 countries.
IBA president J Ross Harper said the constitution's new rules will be applied "sparingly" to allow the association to honour people for "meritorious conduct".
He said Mandela, a qualified lawyer, received the title because he is one of the world's "great statesmen". He was honoured for his commitment to advancing South Africa and his interest in the IBA.
"Nelson Mandela is credited throughout the world as being one of the most significant statesmen of his generation," said Harper.
"We are very proud of the fact that he is a lawyer and that he is leading South Africa onto the world stage.
"It was felt appropriate that we should recognise his interest in the IBA on the one hand and his achievements on the other."
Mandela, who was not present at the Edinburgh meeting, has not yet been notified of his membership.
But president of the Association of Law Societies of the Republic of South Africa Tony Hardy said Mandela will do "full justice" to the appointment.
"I think it's a most appropriate appointment," said Hardy. "I think he would, in accepting the honour, fill the role admirably."
"His achievement in bringing South Africa through to where it is today compared to where it was 12 months ago, and his assistance thereby to the legal profession as a whole in the country has been commendable."
"His appointment would certainly carry the support of the organised legal profession in South Africa."