Committed to the end

Kamran Arif will be remembered for his contribution to the struggle for the protection of human rights in the country

The country lost another of its brave sons, Kamran Arif, in the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused massive damage worldwide. Arif, the vice-chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, breathed his last on April 2.

Tanveer Jahan, human rights activist and a friend of Arif’s, says she felt devastated by the sad news.

“What a loss. I have always believed in an alternative family – a family of one’s choosing. Kamran was the most important member of my alternative family; a lifelong friend, a companion in the human rights struggle; a brave and committed defender of human rights. Above all, a gentle soul,” Jahan says.

She adds, “Arif was an excellent photographer. He knew the art of capturing the right moment through his lens.” Jahan says that death can end a life but not a relationship. His departure is as irreparable as the treasure of countless moments that he has bequeathed his friends and family. “Rest in eternal peace, my friend, as we try to measure the void you have left behind.”

Journalist Asha’ar Rehman, a family friend, remembers him as one of the most uncomplicated rights activists he ever came across - always composed.

“This was probably a measure of his commitment to what he believed in and stood for. Such clarity is getting rarer as today’s concerns often override the ideals of the past,” Rehman says.

In a Facebook post, journalist Wajahat Masood wrote, “What an indescribable loss. Speechless. Covid snatched another gem. He was a life-long friend, an indefatigable human rights activist, a lawyer par excellence, a fellow as brave as incisive, a brain whence genius flowed like a stream of pure intellect, is no more. It is a death in the family. Words suffice not, and sadness descends heavily on bereaved hearts.”

Media Matters for Democracy founder Asad Baig tells The News on Sunday (TNS) Arif was one of a kind. He says the combination of pragmatism and optimism that one saw in Arif is becoming rare.

“I have no doubt that he had one of the finest minds in the country. He saw things as they were, rooted in history and context; in their reality, with all imperfections, and he devised solutions to fit those complicated realities,” adds Baig.

“His commitment to human rights and justice was unmatched. He dedicated his life to this work, the cost did not matter. He moved away from his hometown but did not for a second move away from his principles. He continued his human rights work,” says Asad Baig.

His commitment to human rights and justice was unmatched. He dedicated his life to this work, the cost did not matter. He moved away from his hometown but did not for a second move away from his principles. He continued his
human rights work,” says Baig.

Baig says Arif saw firsthand the worst of human nature and the worst of the justice system and worked to improve it, often silently. He never sought the limelight. He had a wit few could match. For me, he was much more than a human rights icon. He was a mentor and a friend. He was someone who helped without any expectations of a return; someone who could always be counted upon to lift us.”

His loss, says Baig, has left a void that will be very difficult to fill.

Arif was an exceptional human rights defender. As a senior lawyer he was globally respected. He had been associated with the HRCP for around three decades. During these years, he led several high-profile fact-finding missions to various parts of the country, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit and Balochistan. He trained hundreds of activists in international human rights law. He remained a staunch advocate against custodial torture, enforced disappearance and the death penalty.

For decades, Arif played his part in ending enforced disappearances. He used to remind the government of its pledge to criminalise enforced disappearances. He used to argue that the heinous practice be recognised as a distinct offence and the perpetrators held strictly accountable. Arif argued that the victims and their families must also be compensated for their suffering in the light of Islamabad High Court’s decision, which rightly categorised enforced disappearances as a crime against humanity.

For Arif, It was always a matter of grave concern that many victims remained afraid and did not seek assistance or publicise their cases for fear of reprisal by the institutions and individuals involved. The HRCP has long held that the official data sorely underreports the number of forcibly disappeared persons. This calls into question the efficacy of the Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COEID).

From 2011 to 2017, Arif then co-chair of the HRCP, consistently raised his voice for human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief.

Arif emphasised the need to ensure that the former FATA was effectively mainstreamed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Arif was committed to a lasting peace between Pakistan and India and served as a bureau member of South Asians for Human Rights. His work was praised by the chairperson of South Asians for Human Rights, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who believed that Arif’s understated and consistent contribution towards the protection and promotion of human rights, democratic values and peace in the South Asian Region were commendable.

HRCP secretary-general Harris Khalique said, “Kamran Arif believed more in actual work than mere sloganeering. His loss to the HRCP is irreparable.”

At a memorial arranged online on April 2, HRCP members, staff, and supporters recalled Arif’s wit, humour and erudition; his keen eye for photography; his passion for history and travel; and above all, his commitment to human rights and democratic values in even the most difficult circumstances.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He reports on politics, economy and militancy. He can be reached at [email protected]

Committed to the end