Home Towering M'sians The remarkable journey of Noor Farida Ariffin: Lawyer, diplomat, activist (1947-2024)

The remarkable journey of Noor Farida Ariffin: Lawyer, diplomat, activist (1947-2024)

Farida's passing, given her activism at a crucial stage in the country's history, is a monumental loss to the nation

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By M Santhananaban

Dato’ Noor Farida Ariffin, a noted human rights activist who passed away after a brief period of illness on 27 June, was one of the very few practising lawyers inducted into Malaysia’s diplomatic service.

Farida, who hailed from the Kuala Kangsar-Taiping area, entered the diplomatic service after a long stint in the judicial and legal service and a three-year stint at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.

At the Commonwealth Secretariat, she was entrusted with handling women and development issues.

The Malaysian Foreign Service had had some early recruits with a legal background – including M Ghazali Shafie, Hussein Mohd Osman, Zainal Abidin Ibrahim and Renji Sathiah – but almost no practising lawyers.

Farida and her contemporary, Azzat Kamaluddin, initially of the Foreign Service who later took up legal practice, were rare exceptions. Another two early Foreign Service recruits who went into the judicial and legal profession were Lamin Mohd Yunus and Chew Kim Poh.

Two prominent practising lawyers – Dr R Ramani and PG Lim – were co-opted into the Foreign Service establishment in the 1960s. Farida represented a continuation of that almost forgotten tradition. But unlike those two prominent lawyers, Farida was essentially a serving civil servant.

Relative to those two legal eagles, Farida was of a later generation. As a late entrant to our diplomacy, she had been subjected to a government functionary’s ingrained bureaucratic mindset that had evolved in the 1980s and 1990s.

Yet Farida was the ultimate patriot, loyalist, diplomat and kind soul. She was committed and outspoken about decency, fair play and justice. She displayed exemplary conduct, with the highest integrity and transparency.

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Following her retirement from government service, she dedicated herself to G25’s mission of promoting accountability, good governance, moderation and transparency towards building a harmonious and healthy plural society.

Faridah was always attired impeccably. But it was her deportment and her compassionate and cosmopolitan approach that really endeared her to all her colleagues and associates. Her capacity to transcend ethnic, religious and status differences earned her much affection and respect.

She knew the art of fine, convivial conversation, impeccable hospitality and the proper boundaries of diplomatic conduct.

Yet, Faridah could, with obvious sincerity and courage, speak truth to power. This was a rare attribute in a system noted for its ‘kiss-up and kick-down’ behaviour that was unduly beholden, at times, to some political oddities and officiousness.

Her school principal, the legendary Long Heng Hua, a distinguished educationist who consistently declined promotions to higher positions, would have been proud of the acclaim and achievements attributed to his pupil.

Farida’s passing, given her activism at a crucial stage in the country’s history, is a monumental loss to the nation.

She leaves behind a legacy of love, loyalty to the nation, level-headed thinking on polemical issues, and a dedication to the rule of law.

Dato’ M Santhananaban is a former ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Benedict Lopez
29 Jun 2024 9.50am

A Towering Malaysian.

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