Tribute For Asma Jahangir
Tribute For Asma Jahangir (1952-2018)
Asma Jahangir, one of the founding members of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) passed away last night in Lahore, Pakistan. She was a renowned lawyer and women human rights defender and her vision and guidance were integral in shaping APWLD’s work in the region. We join in mourning this great loss to the human rights and feminist movements.
Asma joined women lawyers, social scientists and activists from Asia Pacific at the 1985 Third World Forum on Women, in Nairobi, Kenya. The outcome of this meeting was the formation of APWLD. Defending women’s human rights at the global level, Asma was an inspiring frontline defender to ensure women’s human rights and political voices influence international human rights norms and standards setting as she had served as the UN Special Rapporteur extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. At the time of her demise, she held the position of UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
APWLD Members Pay Tribute
Hameeda Hossain, prominent Bangladeshi human rights activist
Asma Jahangir’s sudden death has come as a shock to many of us. Not only because at 66 years she had many miles to go and many causes to serve. We have known her as a champion of democracy and human rights, defending the rights of women and speaking out courageously against authoritarian systems, in her own country as well as in the rest of South Asia.
Her strong defence of human rights was evident when, even as a student, she took up the legal defence for her father Malik Ghulam Jilani who was jailed by General Yahya Khan in 1971 for protesting the imprisonment of Shaikh Mujibur Rahman. When others remained silent she spoke out against Ziaul Haq’s military rule. This led to her imprisonment in 1983 for her pro-democracy campaigns. Again in 2007 she was kept in house arrest for protesting the removal of the Supreme Court Chief Justice.
She also institutionalised her work for human rights. As a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan Asma took up cases in court and campaigned in public. She held the UN mandate as Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial Killings from 1998 to 2004 and Freedom of Religion or Belief from 2004 to 2010.
I came to know Asma closely when we worked together with other human rights activists to form South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), which was dedicated to the promotion of human rights in South Asia. As the first co-chair of the organisation Asma set high standards not only to create awareness of rights but for collective responses to state violations in the region. It was as a result of her leadership that SAHR was able to document cases of torture and custodial violence.
As a strong advocate of women’s rights she challenged the Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan and spoke out for women’s freedom and dignity in different forums. In Pakistan Asma Jahangir secured a number of victories during, 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.
During a visit to Dhaka she addressed a meeting of human rights activists and spoke out against Pakistan’s military action in Bangladesh in 1971. But her influence went beyond South Asia. As a member of the Asia Pacific Women and Law Network based in Chiang Mai she inspired all of us in the struggle for women’s rights across Asia.
At the time of her death she was UN Special Rapporteur of Human Rights in Iran. Although she was not given permission to pursue her mandate within the country she collected evidence of human rights violations and documented these for her submission to the General Assembly.
We will remember Asma for her activism in the court in her own country, in international platforms and her contributions to regional fora. In recognition of her work she has received several awards and accolades during her life, including the 2014 Sweden’s Right to Livelihood Award and France’s Officier de la Légion d’honneur in 2014.
We will continue to respect Asma for her undaunted courage and perseverance in the defence of human rights. The best tribute to her is to continue our collective struggles for human rights, democracy and justice. And to do so without fear or favour.
Helen Hakena, Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency
The management and staff of Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency sent our deepest condolences to late Asma Jahangir’s family in Lahore, Pakistan. Late Asma has been my Human Rights mentor and knowing and working alongside her during meetings and conferences has been my strength. I had the opportunity to be with her in November in Rome last year. I didn’t think that this would be my last time to see her. She will be greatly missed in the network.
May her soul Rest In Eternal Peace.
Aasha Ramesh, Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum
It’s a sad day with Asma so suddenly gone. She was integral to APWLD. I can not forget my first foreign trip and that to Lahore for a conference organised by her. It was such a memorable time and she took special care of us. I am very sad. May her soul rest in peace and her family gets strength to bear this loss. This is a great loss to the human rights movement.
Sheepa Hafiza, Ain o Salish Kendra
Elizabeth Khumallambam, Team Nari Shakti Manch, Gurgaon, India
A great spirit, your passing away is a big loss but the footprints that you have made, your struggle and fight for women Human Rights Defenders will be an inspiration. The way you have paved for the next generation is something that will remain an inspiration. The big steps that you have initiated is the milestone for us. You will always be remembered, admired and your work is priceless. We wish you peace in your heavenly abode.
Geetha Lakmini, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Sri Lanka
It is so sad to hear of this news. We Women Lanka convey the deepest sympathy for her family and the community. She is in our thoughts.
Kabita Pandey, Forum For Protection of Public Interest – Pro Public, Nepal
Sorry to hear that APWLD has lost one of its activist members and also want to give condolence.