Irene Fernandez – activist, friend, and a great daughter of Malaysia


Bersih 2.0 is saddened to hear about the passing of Irene Fernandez, one of Malaysia’s foremost human rights activists.

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Irene had a formidable record in activism that spanned across decades and a whole range of difficult, non-mainstream issues related to the poor and marginalised – from people living with HIV to plantation, domestic, sex and migrant workers. Her indefatigable lifelong work for the people earned her the prestigious Right Livelihood Award in 2005.

But Irene never rested on her laurels and continued to give her invaluable contributions to many struggles, including for free and fair elections. She was a member of the organising committee of the recently concluded People’s Tribunal on Malaysia’s 13th General Election and had been on her way to attend the delivery of the report of the Tribunal when she suffered heart failure and had to be immediately hospitalised.

Our heartfelt condolences to her family, relatives, friends, colleagues and the millions of people whose lives in Malaysia have improved because of her and to her global friends whose lives she had touched and inspired. Like them, Bersih 2.0 is proud and grateful to have known Irene – a daughter of Malaysia who could hold her own among her international peers.

Since Irene has dedicated her life’s work to us, we cannot let it go to waste. She was the standard-bearer for the struggle against oppression in Malaysia and we must carry on this eternal struggle. Irene will always be an inspiration to all Malaysians who aspire to make our country better for everyone.

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May she rest in peace – at long last and so well-deserved.

Issued by:

The Steering Committee of Bersih 2.0, which comprises:

Maria Chin Abdullah (Chairperson), Dr Farouk Musa (Deputy Chairperson), Masjaliza Hamzah (Treasurer), Farhana Halim, New Sin Yew, Jannie Lasimbang (Sabah Vice-chair), Ahmad b. Awang Ali (Sarawak Vice-chair), Abd Halim b. Wan Ismail (East Peninsula Vice-chair), Thomas Fann (South Peninsula Vice-chair), Simon Lee Ying Wai (Central Peninsula Vice-chair) and Dato’ Dr Toh Kin Woon (North Peninsula Vice-chair).

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  1. Like many in her position who had a real opportunity to end slavery in all its forms, Irene Fernandez allowed her crusade to be either knowingly or negligently hijacked for a political purpose.

    Whilst she and her family committed the cardinal sin of having to keep “maids” albeit under ‘better conditions’ ( as she would say), they assisted in the trade in which millions of mainly women are relegated and conned into a life of servitude with no means of release.

    A bird in a cage however well fed and protected and however big a household it is maintained in remains a bird in captivity.

    The second cardinal sin by Irene Fernandez was her bringing her children into the organization into positions of authority. Very much in the Anwar Ibrahim, Waytha Murthi mould of nepotism. Yet they failed to see the contradictions and the irony in that practice.

    She like others who support her failed to see how these contradictions in their personal and public lives whilst they continued misguided in condemning others like at the behest of foreigners who parade as their role models and the vision we are meant to adopt or in default be destroyed.

    In the end because of the likes of Irene Fernandez maids continue to find a desperate occupation in a novo riche society like what Malaysia has developed into bullied and exploited to the core…


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