The text of Ambiga Sreenevasan’s speech when she received the award.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Our final speaker, Ambiga Sreenevasan, has a remarkable record of accomplishment in Malaysia. She has pursued judicial reform and good governance, she has stood up for religious tolerance, and she has been a resolute advocate of women’s equality and their full political participation. She is someone who is not only working in her own country, but whose influence is felt beyond the borders of Malaysia. And it is a great honour to recognise her and invite her to the podium.
MS. SREENEVASAN: The First Lady Mrs. Obama, Madame Secretary Hillary Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, I am humbled to be in the company of seven extraordinary women receiving this award for courage, and I am deeply honoured to now speak on their behalf and on mine.
We accept this award in all humility, remembering that we have been fortunate in being singled out from among countless courageous women in our countries who are dedicated to the cause of equality and justice.
It is also timely for us to remember all the women in other conflict-ridden territories, like Palestine and other countries, who have to show courage every single day in their struggle to survive and to keep their families together.
Each of us fights causes that promote equality and justice, and by presenting us with this award you honour those causes and all the people who work tirelessly for them with unflinching dedication.
This award will help to bring to the international stage our voices and our advocacy on these important issues. This occasion gives us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the rule of law in promoting the rights of women around the world. When the rule of law is upheld, equality is upheld, the cause of justice is upheld, and human rights are upheld.
Today, we are witnessing a struggle for the souls of our nations, taking place between the forces of the old and the forces of change. We see our commitment to the rule of law, fundamental liberties, and the independence of our institutions being tested. The strength of our nations will depend on how well they withstand this test.
There are those who claim that democracy is a Western concept and is unsuitable elsewhere. There are yet others who perpetrate injustices behind a veneer of democracy. We say that democracy is universal, and a true democracy and the rule of law will prevail when the collective voices of the people are raised in its support.
On my part, I have for the past two years had the privilege to lead and serve the Malaysian Bar, a professional organisation consisting of approximately 13000 lawyers. History will bear testament to the fact that the Malaysian Bar has always been true to its first article of faith, to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members uninfluenced by fear or favour. In a sense, I was merely stepping into the shoes of the many other brave leaders of the bar who came before me, whereas many of the awardees today are pioneers in their struggle for justice.
This award has given us the opportunity which we would not otherwise have had, to share our stories, our successes, our failures, to reach out across our borders and to establish a base upon which we can build a meaningful network of support. These stories must be told in all our countries. By this experience, we are both enriched and enraged; enriched by what we have shared, and enraged that so many of our sisters endure intimidation and suffering in their countries. Nevertheless, ours is a message of hope that something has been achieved, despite the odds.
Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This means that although we may come from different walks of life, our struggle is common. And each success is a success for all, just as each failure is a failure for all. When we unite on a human rights platform, whether domestically or internationally, above politics and political alliances, we create more enduring partnerships and relationships. When we pursue freedom and empowerment for others, we reaffirm and protect our own.
In my interaction with the other awardees present here today, it was evident that the passion we feel for our causes is driven by the love of our homelands and our people. That, in turn, drives our passion for what is right and what is just. Our people deserve nothing less. We all believe in striving for ideals that are– if I may borrow the words – self-evident; namely, the ideals of truth, justice, goodness, and universal love and understanding. Our stories are a testament to the universality of these ideals.
We are truly and deeply honoured by this award, more so, when it comes from you, Madame Secretary, yourself a woman of courage, who has inspired women around the world to reach great heights. Your untiring efforts in championing women’s rights worldwide are well known. Your immortal words that, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” resonate with all of us here.
We would also like to express our deep admiration for the First Lady Mrs. Obama, and we would also like to express our appreciation for your sharing this moment with us. Madame Secretary, on behalf of all the awardees, I thank you. And we accept the honour with humility and pride. Thank you.
by Alwyn Goh
Micheal row the boat a-shore
Civic duty is heavy chore
To this need, don’t be blind
Good people, hold that line
Enuf talk, it’s time to walk
From destiny, one can’t balk
History beckons, tick tock
Stand up to tyranny’s knock
With power, comes responsibility
Our mission: to make that reality
Remove obstacles to progress
Boot those seeking to oppress
Power to the people, no delay
Real change, when it’s in play
Freedom requires we take step
So stretch wings, then flap