Pakistani Human Rights Activist Asma Jahangir Dies

People carry the coffin of human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir who died on Sunday during her funeral in Lahore Pakistan on Tuesday. — Reuters

Paying their tributes to the country's prominent human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir, civil society and rights activists on Monday vowed to not only sustain but also further promote the struggle she initiated for democracy and the rule of law.

"Asma was among the few women who protested the black and inhumane laws, and the struggle was later commemorated as National Women's Day on February 12". The rights commission that she helped create made its name defending religious minorities and tackling highly charged blasphemy accusations along with cases of "honour" killings or murders of women by relatives for bringing shame on the family.

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 was a role model for hundreds of women in Pakistan for standing up to patriarchal norms, and gave a voice to the millions of voiceless in the country who continue to be persecuted day in and day out with complete impunity.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which supports Special Rapporteurs and independent experts in the discharge of their mandate, also expressed its sadness at Ms Jahangir's passing.

For her efforts she won many prizes and awards, including the French Legion d'Honneur and the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. Even she has been facing several death threats and attacks but she never stepped back.

"No one can replace Asma, ..."

From 1998-2000 Jahangir served as the special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions and was the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the UN Commission on Human Rights since 2004.

She was an outspoken critic of the powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of the Supreme Court bar association, and also criticised the apex court over "judicial activism". She won scores of global awards.

"'Speaking truth to power, ' a phrase we often use, Asma Jahangir lived, practiced till her last breath", said another activist, Raza Ahmed Rumi. Work remained suspended at the high court and its subordinate courts, as the legal fraternity remembered Asma's services. Two years ago, Asma was on the stage in Lahore with Romila Thapar during the Lahore Literary Festival discussing the upsurge of religion and the resultant injustice in South Asia.

"It is a great loss for the world's human rights advocates". Concerned for their safety, she sent her daughters overseas to continue their schooling.

Daughter of Malik Ghulam Jilani, who himself fought military dictatorship all his life not knowing it would become a permanent feature even under democracy, Asma attended Convent of Jesus and Mary in Lahore and got her BA from Kinnaird College in Lahore.

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