Singapore: Ravi Madasamy receives IBA Human Rights Award 2023

Thursday 2 November 2023

Lawyer Ravi Madasamy has received the 2023 International Bar Association (IBA) Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights for his extraordinary dedication to defending human rights and advocating for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the abolition of the death penalty in the Republic of Singapore.


On receipt of his award, Mr Madasamy commented: ‘For the moments of heartbreak, tears and hopelessness, receiving this award makes my journey completely worthwhile, even if it means losing my liberty along the way. It has been a journey worth taking. I feel truly honoured in being the recipient of this rare award. It has come at a time when I’m going through so many challenges in Singapore and the award has certainly uplifted my spirit. It is great to know that the IBA is appreciative of my contribution to human rights in Singapore, in the course of my legal practice over a span of 20 years. I wish to dedicate this award to my late mother, who had shown me the path, and also dedicate the award to all the human rights activists in Singapore, who have worked with me over the years.’

In addition, Mr Madasamy recorded a video message of acceptance, because he was not in Paris to receive the Award in person. 

Each year, the IBA presents an award to an outstanding lawyer in the world of human rights law. The award is bestowed upon a legal practitioner who is deemed to have made a remarkable contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of any group of people, particularly with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law. This year’s award was presented by the IBA Human Rights Law Committee on Thursday 2 November during the Section on Public and Professional Interest (SPPI) breakfast at the IBA Annual Conference 2023 in Paris.

Mr Madasamy is a founding member of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network and the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign’s community group. Over the course of his career, he has worked to save more than 40 inmates from death row. The legal challenges brought by Mr Madasamy to court between 2010 and 2012 in the case of Yong Vui Kong, a young Malaysian national on death row in Malaysia, led to an indirect moratorium on death penalty cases in the country which ultimately contributed to the amendment of the law in respect of the mandatory death penalty for certain drug offences. His involvement in the case of Nagaenthran, an intellectually disabled death row inmate, drew worldwide attention. In addition to his efforts in Malaysia and Singapore, Mr Madasamy works as a mentor to lawyers in Pakistan and Tanzania on challenging the death penalty in these countries as part of a scheme organised by the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty and ECPM.

Mr Madasamy has also played an instrumental role in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Singapore. The legal challenge to S.377A he brought forward in 2010 paved the way for subsequent legal challenges in 2020, and the judgment in 2022 which forced the Singaporean government to overturn the outlawing of sex between consenting men.

The judging panel outlined their reasons for selecting Mr Madasamy as the IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights winner for 2023: ‘Ravi Madasamy was chosen due to his fearless advocacy and exceptional contribution to improving human rights protection for vulnerable communities, including through his litigation challenges to the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty and criminalisation of homosexuality. Described as Singapore’s only “cause lawyer”, Mr Madasamy’s perseverance and integrity in pursuing politically unpopular cases has acted as a beacon for human rights advocacy not only in Singapore but also in the region and further afar, through the networks for lawyers engaged in anti-death penalty challenges that he helped establish. His attempts to achieve legal reform have regrettably drawn adverse consequences towards himself, including a recent five-year suspension of his practicing certificate. With this award, we wish to recognise and honour his professional achievements in furthering human rights and his personal courage in speaking out against injustice, irrespective of the cost to himself.’

Mr Madasamy’s challenging of the Singaporean government has led to periodic restrictions on his license to practise law, including the imposition of personal cost orders to the sum of $70,000 for bringing ‘last-minute’ death penalty challenges in court. In March 2023, he was suspended from practising law for five years in Singapore courts for criticising the prosecution’s conduct and he is currently facing contempt of court allegations with state prosecutors pursuing a prison sentence as the penalty. Since his barring in Singapore, Mr Madasamy has set up offices in Myanmar, Nigeria and Thailand and has retrained to become an environmental, social and governance (ESG) and Sustainability Ambassador in the South-East Asia region.

Michael Polak, Barrister at Church Court Chambers, London, and winner of the IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer Award (2021), nominated Mr Madasamy for the award. He said: ‘Through his dedication to his work and his passion to help the oppressed, Ravi Madasamy has become known as one of the foremost advocates against the death penalty worldwide and as someone who is not afraid to stand up against the austere Singapore establishment even at great costs to himself. He has kept true to what it means to be a human rights lawyer. His principled approach to serving his clients, in preserving the rule of law, challenging possible injustices and miscarriages of justice and often being the lone voice against the establishment in Singapore has won my admiration and respect. Mr Madasamy is without doubt a role model for present and future generations of lawyers, especially those from Asia.’


Notes to the Editor 

  1. Information about the IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights is available at: www.ibanet.org/Committees/Divisions/Legal_Practice/IBA-Human-Rights-Award.aspx
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  3. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:
  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  5. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:

For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org