Michelle Yesudas – Human Rights Activist
“When I began my work, I was told by many that I did not ‘fit’ the stereotype of an activist,” Michelle Yesudas recalls. “But there are no prerequisites for engaging in activism. After all, aren’t we here to break stereotypes?” Armed with a law degree from the University of London and a Masters of Laws from the University of Warwick, she’s gone on to do just that – first with Lawyers for Liberty, the Malaysian human rights and law reform initiative, and now with the Asia Pacific regional office of Amnesty International.
Michelle’s role as a Campaign Consultant for the organisation has seen her switch from domestic public interest litigation to covering human rights issues on a more regional scope, which (besides Malaysia) includes the Philippines, Singapore, and Brunei. Her focus falls unrelentingly on how to strengthen advocacy methods across those countries, freedom of expression, the treatment of refugees and migrant workers, the accountability of state mechanisms, and – in particular – the death penalty.
“Nobody should ever have the power to take away the life of another human being, as we move towards becoming a more civilised society that condemns the act of murder itself,” she insists. “Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times because it is the most degrading punishment of all. It shocks me deeply that being against it is still considered controversial here.”
No stranger to the difficulties of challenging the status quo, Michelle is determined to press on. “If we allow fear to minimise the impact, clarity and truthfulness of our actions, then we – as human rights defenders – will achieve nothing at all. And if we fail to be optimistic for those we serve, there will be nobody left to build a better system.
“The cases I deal with remind me that the human spirit is incredibly courageous and admirable. The families of death-in-custody victims and those that have been sentenced to death continue to speak out to ensure nobody will have to endure what they have, despite their loss and grief. To me, they are the true heroes.”