The Bar Human Right Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) pays tribute to its friend and colleague, international human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.
Asma suffered from cardiac arrest on Sunday 11th February 2018. She passed away in hospital in Lahore the same day.
Asma was a fearless advocate who dedicated her life to the rule of law & promoting tolerance. She was the founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and was widely seen as responsible for the grassroots human rights movement in Pakistan. She was the first women to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. In 2005 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the 1000 Women for Peace project. Most recently, Asma was appointed the UN rapporteur for human rights in Iran.
Several of us at BHRC had the privilege to work with her (in both London and Lahore) on a plethora of issues, including women’s rights, the blasphemy laws, forced marriages & forced religious conversations in Pakistan. She was always willing to volunteer her time and expertise.
Asma spoke to the Bar Human Rights Committee on a number of public events in recent years including with Geoffrey Robertson QC and Zimran Samuel at Doughty Street Chambers in September 2013 and at a packed Law Society lecture hall with Kirsty Brimelow QC in July 2014. She spoke of the emergence of the human rights movement in Pakistan and the role of civil society in keeping those in power accountable.
Perhaps one of her most prominent roles had been as the U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of religion from 2004 to 2010. However her advocacy against religious persecution in Pakistan was life long, often earning her death threats as she took on cases on behalf of victims of the Pakistan’s blasphemy law that no one else had the courage to advance.
She was a significant source of support during the Bar Human Right Committee’s fact finding mission on religious discrimination and forced religious conversions in Sindh and Punjab.
Our Co Vice-Chair, Schona Jolly QC, said:
Asma was a true inspiration for human rights and the rule of law, for South Asia, for feminism, for the vulnerable and voiceless, for us all. Her courage was immense and unwavering. Her loss comes at a time when the human rights movement needed critical voices like hers. We are all the poorer without her.”
BHRC Executive Committee member Zimran Samuel added:
Asma was a powerful voice who held the feet of the establishment to the fire her whole life. She was a source of immeasurable inspiration for a movement in Pakistan and an entire generation of activists, campaigners and lawyers.I will never forget the way she opened up her home to me in Lahore. Talking to her you could see the passion in her eyes as she discussed the problems that many young girls face, particularly from religious minorities or marginalised communities. She allowed me to stay with her and ensured I was safe when investigating sensitive issues in Pakistan. She was just an incredibly warm and generous person. To my mind Pakistan has lost its greatest daughter.
The Bar Human Right Committee mourns the loss of a friend and icon who will be immensely missed.