Human Rights

Pakistan pays tribute to 'human rights giant' Asma Jahangir

Pakistan Forward


In this photograph taken on December 30, 2011, Pakistani human rights activist and Supreme Court lawyer Asma Jahangir speaks to media in Islamabad. She died February 11, 2018. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan and the international community are mourning "human rights giant" Asma Jahangir following her death over the weekend, praising her courage in campaigns for justice and equality for all.

Jahangir, 66, co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and also once served as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. She died Sunday (February 11) in a Lahore hospital after suffering from a cardiac arrest, her family announced.

The rights commission which she helped create made its name defending religious minorities and tackling highly charged blasphemy accusations along with cases of "honour" killings -- in which victims, normally women, are murdered by a relative for bringing shame on the family.

Jahangir secured a number of victories during her life, from winning freedom for bonded labourers from their "owners" through pioneering litigation, to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition.


Pakistani mourners gather outside the home of human rights activist Asma Jahangir after the announcement of her death in Lahore on February 11, 2018. [Arfi Ali/AFP]

UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued his "heartfelt condolences" to those grieving the lawyer.

"We have lost a human rights giant," he said in a statement.

"She was a tireless advocate for inalienable rights of all people and for equality -- whether in her capacity as a Pakistani lawyer in the domestic justice system, as a global civil society activist or as a Special Rapporteur."

"Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind," he said.

'Bravest of the brave'

Social media has been flooded with an outpouring of grief for the loss of what many Pakistanis described as the country's "moral compass".

"The best tribute to her is to continue her fight for human rights and democracy," tweeted Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, adding she had met Jahangir just last week in Oxford.

Journalist Wajahat Khan said on Twitter that he and many others did not agree with some of Jahangir's views. "But she was a titan. And one of the brightest and bravest ever produced by this country."

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expressed grief at Jahangir's death, praising her contribution to upholding the rule of law and safeguarding human rights.

On Monday, newspaper front pages were dominated by tributes to Jahangir, who, during her life's work faced death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases.

In its editorial "Asma the fearless", Dawn newspaper said Jahangir was a citizen who all of Pakistan could be proud of and whom most can only hope to emulate.

"Principled and courageous, Asma's willingness and determination to confront evil, defend the vulnerable and insist on Pakistan living up to the ideals of its democratic, constitutional and secular foundations made her truly iconic," the paper wrote.

The News wrote that Jahangir "spoke out bravely and with immense courage for all the oppressed people of the country, essentially acting as the conscience of Pakistan".

"Only her sudden death could silence her and steal away from us the bravest of the brave this country has produced," it said.

Great strides in human rights

Human rights have made greater strides in Pakistan than may be apparent, Jahangir told AFP in 2014.

"There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country. Then prisoners' rights became an issue," she said.

"Women's rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women's rights -- political parties talk about it, even religious parties talk about it."

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