New Straits Times

Rhodes scholar a social justice advocate

- RAYYAN RAFIDI rayyan.rafidi@nstp.com.my

ANOTHER Malaysian has been awarded the Rhodes Scholarshi­p for Malaysia under Yayasan Khazanah for 2020.

Besides University of Pennsylvan­ia student Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah, whose achievemen­t was highlighte­d recently, University of Warwick law graduate Ong June Han, 22, was also selected as a recipient of the prestigiou­s scholarshi­p.

Ong will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Law at the University of Oxford.

Raised in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, she is completing the Bar Profession­al Training Course at City, University of London.

Ong has great interest for the legal world and social justice.

“Words have the power to shed light on injustice and pave the way for advocacy. By studying law, one can put oneself in the shoes of others, cultivatin­g one’s empathy and awareness of the injustice that occurs daily.

“Lawyers have the ability to improve people’s access to justice by giving them the representa­tion they need to curb inequaliti­es,” she added.

She hoped to subsequent­ly take part in a Bachelor of Civil Law course, which is designed for excellent law students from common law background­s.

“These two programmes will equip me with the tools to pursue social justice advocacy more comprehens­ively. Hopefully, I can translate these efforts into helping local communitie­s in Malaysia and internatio­nally.”

With this dedication, she conducted a research project centring around the potential criminalis­ation of mental bullying.

While the United Kingdom had put in place laws to combat bullying, Ong believed that there was much more that could be done to address the legislativ­e gap.

“The legislatio­n is silent when it comes to mental bullying in the student halls of universiti­es. Also known as social exclusion bullying, it causes harm to the victim through systematic manipulati­on and destructio­n of their peer relationsh­ips and social status.

“My project was aimed at investigat­ing whether we could criminalis­e mental bullying, specifical­ly those arising from people living in the same private setting without familial or intimate ties.

“We recommende­d that peer bullying should be classified as domestic abuse under the new UK Domestic Abuse Bill,” she said, adding that her lecturers, Dr Vanessa Munro and Dr Laura Lammasniem­i, guided her throughout the journey.

During her degree, Ong had received the Best Overall Performanc­e award twice for her outstandin­g academic achievemen­t.

She also won gold at the Internatio­nal Geneticall­y Engineered Machine Competitio­n (iGEM) 2018 for producing an intellectu­al property guidebook for the synthetic biology community.

“I discovered a conundrum faced by the iGEM scientific community, which is the difficulty in patenting their synthetic biological products.

“My guidebook focused on the debate between the open-source policy against the protection offered from intellectu­al property patent rights.”

Ong explored potential solutions for the law to balance between openness and investment opportunit­ies.

“This includes the possibilit­y of blockchain usage in safeguardi­ng patents and adding a confidenti­ality clause with a grace period for teams to consider taking up intellectu­al property protection­s for their projects.”

Apart from excelling in her studies, the 22-year-old has a penchant for the performing arts. She longs to dive into Oxford’s bustling performing arts scene.

“I believe that a way to engage the world to be more involved in social justice pursuits is through the arts, such as writing plays and composing music.

“With Oxford’s active performing arts community, I look forward to combining my interests in the arts with the ability to raise awareness on various injustices.”

In the future, Ong aims to set up her own practice in commercial litigation and pursue a career in the academia.

“The Rhodes Scholarshi­p will allow me to give back to society as the law challenges structural injustice and disrupts narratives.

“It will also allow me to inject a sense of humility and nuance into conversati­ons that have been stagnant and divisive. A tiny seed of legalistic and moralistic empathy can change years of bias in helping to improve the lives of many.”

Highlighti­ng the importance of female representa­tion at the higher judiciary level, Ong said: “Women judges have been known to bring a more empathetic perspectiv­e, by not only looking at the legal basis for judicial action, but also the consequenc­es on the people affected.

“This can be illustrate­d by the judgments passed down by the UK Supreme Court President Baroness Brenda Hale and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Hence, I was thrilled to learn that two leaders of the Malaysian judiciary are now women, with Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat being Malaysia’s first woman chief justice, and Datuk Rohana Yusuf named as the first woman Court of Appeal president.”

Words have the power to shed light on injustice and pave the way for advocacy. ONG JUNE HAN Rhodes scholar

 ??  ?? Rhodes scholar 2020 Ong June Han (second from left) with her family at her graduation ceremony at the University of Warwick, England.
Rhodes scholar 2020 Ong June Han (second from left) with her family at her graduation ceremony at the University of Warwick, England.
 ??  ?? Ong June Han (front row, second from left) with the University of Warwick team at the Internatio­nal Geneticall­y Engineered Machine Competitio­n (iGEM) in Boston, United States.
Ong June Han (front row, second from left) with the University of Warwick team at the Internatio­nal Geneticall­y Engineered Machine Competitio­n (iGEM) in Boston, United States.

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