Former president FW de Klerk received the Praeses Elit Award from the Trinity College Law Society in Dublin on Wednesday evening.
In his acceptance speech De Klerk told the audience: "As you may know, I myself am a lawyer. In 1972 I almost became a law professor - but chose instead to go into politics."
Following this, he outlined the changing history of discrimination over the last century, in South Africa and the world in general.
"It is not only the material conditions in which we live that have changed out of all recognition, but perhaps, more significantly, many of our core values and social attitudes."
He pointed out that an era of equality began after World War II, and that any discrimination based on race, gender, or class was slowly rejected.
De Klerk concluded his speech by discussing the modern challenges that democratic societies face, like the conflict between Western values and those of various cultures and religions.
"Despite these challenges, the world is a much better place today than it was a hundred years ago," he said.
Previous recipients of the award include actress Sarah Rafferty, who plays the role of Donna on the popular law-series Suits, and astronaut Chris Hadfield, who was the first Canadian to walk in space.