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February 12, 2019

Rich tributes paid to rights defender Asma Jahangir on first death anniversary


February 12, 2019

Remembering Asma Jahangir on her first death anniversary, panellists told a seminar at the Arts Council on Monday that the severity of the blow of losing Jahangir had not lessened even after the passage of one year, but this loss had translated into a renewed determination to carry her legacy forward.

The event was organised by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to pay rich tribute to Jahangir’s contribution to rights-based causes in the country.

The panellists included former HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf, senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed, Mariam Palijo, Aquila Naz, Amar Sindhu, Maliha Zia and Kalpana Devi.

Speaking on the topic ‘Asma’s Legacy -- Challenges, Resistance and Rights’, they said she was the only person in the country who used to stand for every oppressed class and vulnerable persons. They lamented that our society lacked such a courageous voice, and perhaps no one could replace her in the near future.

Journalist Salahuddin said that Jahangir had had good relations with every political party of Pakistan because she strongly believed in democracy. She had struggled against dictators and set a precedent for the coming generations, he said, adding that the late rights activist had spent her life struggling against the oppressors and was concerned about the right to life for monitories, freedom of speech, women’s rights, missing persons and enforced disappearances.

Sharing memories, Zohra Yusuf said Jahangir had not only founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) but also insprired many other progressive organisations and movements. In 1987, the first HRCP mission of fact-finding was conducted in Sindh where political forces resisted dictatorship more than in other provinces. Despite the pressure, she had not given up and had successfully completed the mission, Yusuf added.

In the midst of one of the worst times in the country’s political history, with the silencing of dissent, the rise in disappearances, anti-democratic reversals of people’s rights, mainstreaming of Jihadi politics, and reckless populist leadership in Pakistan and India threatening peace-brokering, the Women’s Action Forum had decided to pay tribute to the spirit of Jahangir’s resistance for rights and to reclaim the true spirit of democracy in Pakistan, she said.

Yusuf further stated that Jahangir also supported even those people who openly opposed her mission of human rights.

Jahangir, she said, was not just an influential human rights lawyer, women’s rights activist, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and special rapporteur to the UN on several assignments, she was also a voice for Pakistan’s dispossessed bonded labourers and peasants, defender of marginalised religious and ethnic minorities and those made missing by force, an advocate for women’s equal rights, a trailblazer for Indo-Pak peace, and a fierce fighter for civilian democracy, electoral fairness and parliamentary supremacy.

Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed said that recently the judiciary took suo moto notice of several incidents, on which Jahangir was of the view that such notices should be checked and it was her strong stance till her death.

She would set directions for lawyers and bars and played her role to empower the bar associations that could freely work for justice, he said.

Meanwhile, in a statement the HRCP said: “Today, more than ever, the human rights movement in Pakistan needs a collective conscience. Undoubtedly, were Asma Jahangir still with us, she would have continued to speak up against curbs on freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

“She would have demanded accountability for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. She would have defended the vulnerable and marginalised – women, children, peasants and workers, bonded labour, religious and ethnic minorities, and the transgender community.

“She would have criticised any electoral mismanagement and judicial hyper-activism but defended the need for democracy and an independent judiciary. And in so doing, she would be speaking for all those who believe in the inalienability of fundamental rights and freedoms.

“Over the last year, HRCP has carried this work forward despite the vacuum left by Ms. Jahangir. Her imprint remains on the institution she co-founded and the numerous human rights workers she trained.

“HRCP’s governing body and its staff members across the country are committed to continuing Asma Jahangir’s work, and will always remember her spirit and steel. As she herself once quipped, ‘Human rights is not a job, it is a way of life’. For HRCP, this still holds true.”

In a statement, the WAF stated that on February 12, 1983, a group of courageous women including the late human rights champion, Asma Jahangir, defied General Ziaul Haq’s military ban on public gatherings and congregated at the Lahore High Court to raise their voice against the proposed ‘Law of Evidence’ and dress code for women.

“These women were baton-charged and arrested but this only made them more resilient and they grew stronger and encouraged nation-wide collectives for women’s rights and human rights over successive years. “Today, there are scores of Pakistani women across classes and provinces who continue to fight against patriarchy, discrimination, and inequalities at state and domestic levels.”