Islamabad : To remember Asma Jahangir’s empathy with the vulnerable and disadvantaged, it is the responsibility of every conscious citizen to secure freedom from fear, hunger and disease for the majority of the population.
This was stated by eminent human rights activist I A Rehman while presenting an overall human rights situation of the country at the first ‘Asma Jahangir Memorial Lecture’ held on Tuesday. On this occasion he warmly recalled HRCP’s co-founder, remembering her as the ‘voice of sanity and compassion’.
Rehman spoke about people’s fundamental right to ‘economic justice’. Citing examples ranging from bonded labourers and small farmers to lady health workers and journalists, he said that people’s economic rights – the ‘right to employment, and just and equitable conditions of work’ should not be subject to the “availability of resources.” He also reminded the government of their international commitments for political and civil rights.
He said that charitable measures such as free food or shelter could not supplement the opportunities of livelihood but it promotes parasitism. “Some people might claim that the government is providing all basic rights in the constitution but I am talking about the substance of these rights.”
While the Constitution protected people’s social and economic wellbeing, said Rehman, it was critical to secure the substance of these rights, their availability to all citizens and their incremental expansion.
The Prime Minister, he added, had recently said that nothing was more important than providing relief to the poor. “Economic justice must not, therefore, be sacrificed at the altar of national security,” he said.
He reminded the audience that ‘all citizens of Pakistan’ had the right to economic justice, and that Asma Jahangir would not have stood quietly by in such a situation.
It falls to all of us, he said, to band together and demand that these rights – and all other fundamental rights – be protected and promoted.
HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique announced that the Commission was instituting the Asma Jahangir Award for Human Rights Defenders, and resuming the Nisar Osmani Award for Courage in Journalism and the I. A. Rehman Research Grant in Human Rights.
The lecture, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, was heavily attended, with HRCP members, civil society activists, lawyers, journalists and political workers among the audience.