Asma Jahangir leaves behind a powerful human rights legacy

Pauline Gross
February 15, 2018

In a letter to Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the chief minister said, "With the passing of human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir, Pakistan has lost a national treasure".

Members of parliament on the opening day of new sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate on Monday paid tribute to the services of courageous human rights activist Asma Jahangir, terming her sudden death a "national loss".

Maulana Haider Farooq Maududi led the funeral prayers. Jahangir is to be buried at a more private ceremony later Tuesday. She was co-founder of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and also chaired it. After serving as one of the leaders of the Lawyers' Movement, she became Pakistan's first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.

Undaunted, she continued to raise the profile of human rights by taking up the cases of the poorest and most helpless people, setting up - with her sister, Hina Jilani - the first centre offering legal aid in Pakistan, the AGHS Legal Aid Cell.

"For decades, Asma bravely fought for the most disadvantaged people in Pakistan, often at great personal risk".

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"Ms. Jahangir was an outspoken critic of the Pakistani government's misuse of blasphemy laws, particularly targeting Ahmadis and Christians", said USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark. She braved death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases while standing up to dictators. Although she was not given permission to pursue her mandate within the country, she collected evidence of human rights violations and documented these for her submission to the General Assembly. With the voices of intolerance getting louder and louder-causing wars, displacement, inequality, gender discrimination, and meaningless violence-Asma Jahangir's was one that challenged the status quo and exposed it with fearlessness and clarity.

"I remember her profound articulations on several occasions at the United Nations fora about the human rights violations and persecutions against religious minorities in different parts of the world, especially misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan", he said.

She was highly respected and decorated activist in Pakistan.

Through the resolution, the National Assembly members recognised Ms Jahangir's services "for rule of law, democracy and constitutionalism, besides her fearless struggle against oppression and rights abuses". She actively participated in a movement for restoration of political and fundamental rights during the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq for which she was put under house arrest and later imprisoned in 1983. In 1987, she went one better, establishing the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent body that still fights for justice in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Bar Council had announced three days of mourning. The best tribute to her is to continue our collective struggles for human rights, democracy and justice.

Other reports by GizPress

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