A People’s Servant and Fighter for Democratic Rights and Fundamental Change
By Prof. JOSE MARIA SISON
Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle
We, the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), pay our highest tribute to Irene Fernandez. As we mourn her passing and condole with her family, friends and colleagues in Malaysia, we honor her for the outstanding service she rendered to the oppressed and exploited people. We celebrate her achievements as the people’s servant and fighter for democratic rights and fundamental change.
We shall always be inspired by Irene who courageously faced the repression of the Malaysian state and was vindicated not only by the judicial process but more importantly, by the love and support of the grassroots people she helped, the numerous organizations she was part of, and the international activist community who she fought alongside with in the struggle against imperialist oppression and exploitation.
At the First International Assembly of ILPS in 2001, Irene joined us as a co-founder of our League. She was elected as a member of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) and served as the auditor until 2004. Her staunch anti-imperialist and democratic position was further expressed in her active involvement in the ILPS Commission No. 16 on migrants, immigrants, refugees and other displaced people.
Irene delivered one of the keynote addresses in the founding assembly of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and was an important figure in establishing the IMA as the militant anti-imperialist and democratic formation of grassroots migrants organizations worldwide. Until the time of her death, Irene served as the vice chairperson of the alliance.
She had long been concerned with the plight of migrant workers. In 1995, she published a report on their dire situation entitled Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres. The Malaysian state reacted and charged her with malicious and false publication.
Undaunted, Irene continued to fight for the rights of migrants, helped found organizations like Tenaganita that assisted migrants in confronting their problems, and sought the empowerment of grassroots migrant workers. After more than a decade of fighting the charges filed against her, Irene was finally acquitted in 2008.
Aside from her activism pertaining to migrant workers, Irene was fully involved in issues of women, health, rural communities, the rights of workers and peasants and other fundamental concerns of the people. She organized or helped organize unions and women’s organizations such as the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).
She was Chairperson of PAN AP’s Steering Council, a member of the respective Steering Committees of the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC), the Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI), Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), and the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS). She was also the Director of CARAM-Asia and the Vice Chairperson of the International Migrant Alliance (IMA).
She received prestigious awards in recognition of her work to stop violence against women and the abuses against migrant and poor workers. The awards included the Human Rights Watch Award in 1996; the Amnesty International Award in 1998; the International PEN Award in 2000; the Jonathan Mann Award in 2004; and the Right to Livelihood Award in 2005. She also received an Honorary Doctorate in Social Medicine from the Vrije University in Amsterdam.
Indeed, Irene lived a life full of service to the poor, oppressed and exploited people. She was imbued with the anti-imperialist and democratic commitment for fundamental change, especially for the national and social liberation of the peoples in the underdeveloped countries. She embodied moral strength and courage as she engaged in struggles against injustice, despite her health problems.
She will forever be remembered as a highly principled and fearless activist, a wise advocate, an inspiring mentor, and an anti-imperialist and democratic fighter. A servant of the people and a fighter until the end – this will be how migrants, women, youth, workers, peasants and countless other people shall always regard our beloved colleague and fellow fighter, Irene Fernandez.
Long live the memory of Irene Fernandez!
May her legacy of service to the people live forever!
Long live international solidarity!