Ambiga Sreenevasan speaks at the International Women of Courage Awards ceremony in 2009.
|24th President of Malaysian Bar Council|
March 2007 – March 2009
|Deputy||Mr. Ragunath Kesavan|
|Preceded by||Mr. Yeo Yang Poh|
|Succeeded by||Mr. Ragunath Kesavan|
|Member of the International Commission of Jurists|
|Assumed office |
Serving with Chinara Aidarbekova (Kyrgyzstan), Gamal Eid (Egypt), Jamesina Essie L. King (Sierra Leone) and Michael Sfard (Israel)
|President||Robert K Goldman (USA)|
|Chairwoman of Bersih 2.0|
2011 – 30 November 2013
|Succeeded by||Maria Chin Abdullah|
|Chairperson of Bar Council Orang Asli Committee |
Co-leading with Steven Thiru on 2011/2012 tenure
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Steven Thiruneelakandan & Hon Kai Ping (Co-chair)|
|Independent Director of Securities Industry Dispute Resolution Centre|
|Executive Committee of Women's Aid Organisation|
|President of National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)|
|Assumed office |
|Preceded by||Mr. Abdul Rashid Ismail|
|Member of Committee on Institutional Reforms|
|Assumed office |
15 May 2018
|Appointed by||Council of Elders|
|Prime Minister||Mahathir Mohamad|
|Spouse(s)||Mr. S. Radhakrishnan (grandson of S. S. Vasan)|
|Relations||daughter of Dato' Dr G. Sreenevasan|
|Children||Gokul Radhakrishnan / Sharanya Radhakrishnan|
|Alma mater||University of Exeter, England|
|Award(s)||Darjah Dato' Paduka Mahkota Perak (DPMP), 2008|
|International Women of Courage Award, 2009|
|Honorary Graduate of University of Exeter, 2011–12|
|Honorary Doctorate in Law (LLD) of University of Exeter, 2011|
|Legion of Honour, 23 September 2011|
This article is part of a series
Chairman of Bersih
Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan (Tamil: அம்பிகா சீனிவாசன், translit. Ampikā cīṉivācaṉ; born 1956) is a prominent Malaysian lawyer and human rights advocate, and is one of the eight recipients of the US International Women of Courage Award in 2009. She formerly served as the President of the Malaysian Bar Council from 2007 to 2009, and was former co-chairperson of Bersih, an NGO Coalition advocating for free and fair elections.
She currently serves on the executive committee of the Women's Aid Organisation and is involved in the Bar Council Special Committee on the Orang Asli (indigenous persons) rights. She is a director of the Securities Industry Dispute Resolution Centre. She has been involved in the drafting and presenting of several papers and memoranda on issues relating to the rule of law, the judiciary, the administration of justice, legal aid, religious conversion, and other human rights issues.
As former president of the Malaysian Bar, she played a significant role in the establishing of a panel of eminent persons, together with LAWASIA, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and Transparency International-Malaysia in the year 2008. This panel reviewed the judicial crisis of 1988 and issued a report which was the first of its kind, setting an important precedent for organisations to establish their own panel inquiring into abuses of power.
Early life and education
During her high school days, Sreenevasan studied at Convent Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur, where she also served as the Head Prefect in 1975. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Exeter in 1979, and was called to the English Bar at Gray's Inn in 1980. After having worked in two London law firms, she was subsequently admitted to the Malaysian Bar in 1982.
Sreenevasan has been a practising advocate and solicitor since March 1982. She is a founding partner of Sreenevasan, Advocates & Solicitors.
She was also a panellist of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration under the Malaysian Network Information Centre Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy ("MYDRP") from 2006 to 2009. She was chairperson of the Intellectual Property Sub-Committee of the Bar Council from September 2005 to March 2006. She was the vice-president of the Malaysian Intellectual Property Association in 2002.
Sreenevasan is a mediator on the panel of the Bar Council, Malaysian Mediation Centre. She is also co-chairperson of the Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights and a member of the Executive Committee of the Women's Aid Organisation. She is a Director of the Securities Industry Dispute Resolution Centre. She has been involved in the drafting and presenting of several papers and memoranda on issues relating to the rule of law, the judiciary, the administration of justice, legal aid, religious conversion and other human rights issues.
As of 2015, she is the president of Hakam, Malaysia’s National Human Rights Society.
Malaysian Bar Council President 2007 – 2009
Elected in March 2007, Sreenevasan is the second woman to serve as president of the Bar Council. Six months after assuming her leadership, she organised the "March for Justice," in Malaysia's administrative capital, calling for judicial reform and the investigation of a videotape allegedly showing a key lawyer fixing judicial appointments and judges' case assignments. Her public actions, and an intense lobbying campaign, led to the formation of a Royal Commission, which called for corrective action.
Her attempts at discrediting the judiciary with the "Lingham tapes" as her evidence led her and the other members of the opposition into a trap from which they have never recovered. Although a special panel of retired judges concluded the "Lingham tapes" were "genuine", they failed to conclude what it was in the evidence before them led them to concluding "the tapes were genuine".
There was no evidence of a dialogue between Lingham (the man seen on the video recording), no evidence of a third party at the end of the phone Lingham was shown speaking on and no evidence of any additional voices that could have been attributed to a legitimate telephone conversation (dialogue) to lead to a conclusion the panel came to.
Sreenevasan's association with opposition members who referred to the courts of Malaysia as corrupt further drew condemnation abroad and in Malaysia. The attacks on the judiciary was seen as being disingenuous when it became known that she charges top dollar to her clients to contest their matters in the same courts she allows her associates to call corrupt.
Sreenevasan has also claimed to support the rule of law during her tenure, condemning the politically motivated arrests of two journalists. Although the government's banning of an ethnic Indian activist group Hindraf and the arrest of its members saw her intervention in preventing Hindraf lawyer Waytha Moorthi from receiving legal representation from the Malaysian Bar, she continues to be identified as a lawyer who assisted the group. In fact her intervention in preventing Hindraf from receiving legal assistance from the Malaysian Bar was widely condemned by the Indians and led to suspicion of her real political motives.
Probably Sreenevasan's most controversial work has been in the areas of religious freedom and women's rights. She has repeatedly confronted sexism in Parliament, taking her case directly to the public when necessary. "Gender equality is a responsibility of all Malaysians," she wrote in a press release that protested remarks made by a politician that she found patronising. She successfully fought to amend Malaysia's Federal Constitution to ensure that women's testimony would carry equal weight to men's in sharia courts. She continues to campaign for the religious freedom of women who convert to Islam upon marriage. Under current law, these women are not allowed to return to their original religions after being divorced, regardless of the reason for the divorce.
As a result of her attempts to resolve issues that continue to generate inter-ethnic tensions and constitutional problems, Sreenevasan has received hate mail, death threats, and had a Molotov cocktail thrown at her house. Hundreds of people from religious groups and conservative members of government have protested at the Bar Council building and called for her arrest.
In 2008, as President of the Malaysian Bar she played a significant role in the establishing, in collaboration with LAWASIA, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and Transparency International-Malaysia, of a panel to review the judicial crisis of 1998. The panel issued a report that was the first of its kind, setting a precedent for the establishment of panels to inquire into abuses of power.
Bersih 2.0 rally
Sreenevasan chaired Bersih 2.0, the organisation behind the July 2011 rally in Kuala Lumpur that drew 20,000 people. She summed up the main issues raised by Bersih as "unhappiness... in the Sarawak [election], unhappiness about corruption, [and] unhappiness about the lack of independence of our institutions." She said demands made during the first rally in 2007 have not been addressed, hence the follow-up rally.
Sreenevasan later said that the rally "exploded many myths" in Malaysia, including the notion that people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds could not work together and that the middle class was "too comfortable to step up to the plate."
Her involvement in the Bersih 2.0 rally, however, was not without controversy. While promoting "clean, free and neutral" elections, she also admitted and was found to have received foreign funding and support from two organisations and foundations in the US connected to the US State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The blogger Gopal Raj Kumar (believed to be a former radio journalist and lawyer) reported on in or around 2010 that Bersih leader Sreenevasan had received foreign funding for her involvement in Bersih. As well he reported that she "admitted to Bersih receiving some money from two US organisations – the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Open Society Institute (OSI) – for other projects, which she stressed were unrelated to the July 9 march."
On September 21, 2012, Malaysia's New Straits Times published "Plot to destabilize government," which accused Bersih and other nongovernment organizations of plotting a conspiracy to destabilise the government using foreign funding. Sreenevasan and fellow Bersih organizers filed for defamation, which resulted in High Court Justice Lee Heng Cheong ordering the New Straits Times Press (NSTP) to pay damages to the plaintiffs. NSTP also issued an apology admitting the article was "false and without foundation."
Dato Ambiga was appointed to the International Commission of Jurists in 2018.
She is a member of the Malaysian Intellectual Property Association and was its vice president in 2002. She is also a member of the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), as well as the Asian Patent Attorneys Association (APPA). She headed Bersih 2.0, also called Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, a citizen’s movement for free and fair elections. In 2015, she led the Bersih 3.0 rally.
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