The international community lost a strong voice against human rights violations and Islamic extremism when Asma Jahangir died of a heart attack on February 11. As one of Pakistan’s prominent human rights activists, she stood up against Islamic extremism, and was respected for her criticism of the militant Islamic groups in Pakistan.
Jahangir regularly raised concerns about the Pakistan military and intelligence services, but also was a staunch defender of minority Christian who were charged with blasphemy, an offence that potentially carries the death penalty. As a champion of human rights, she also spoke out for women and minority religions.
The United Nations appointed her the special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, and her reports gave a voice to the Iranian people, many who were being treated inhumanely by their government. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) frequently pointed to Jahangir’s work in its calls for international support against the Iranian regime’s human rights violations.
“It is a great loss for the world’s human rights advocates. She will always be remembered for her brilliant record in defense of human rights and her courageous reports on the crimes of the Iranian regime,” tweeted Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the NCRI.
Friends, relatives, activists, and journalists have all expressed their grief at the loss of this woman who focused the world’s attention on human rights violations and issues throughout Southeast Asia.
The prime minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, lauded her “immense contributions towards upholding rule of law, democracy, and safeguarding human rights.”
Others talked about her impact on human rights throughout the region, expressing their condolences on her passing. In 1987, she co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and became its Secretary General until 1993 when she was elevated as commission’s chairperson. She was again put under house arrest in November 2007 after the imposition of martial law. After serving as one of the leaders of the Lawyers’ Movement, she became Pakistan’s first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. She has co-chaired South Asia Forum for Human Rights and was the vice president of International Federation for Human Rights.
“Since her appointment as Special Rapporteur on Iran by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016, she has brought the voices of victims of human rights abuses to the United Nations and supported a stifled but vibrant civil society. Ms. Jahangir called for vital human rights reforms and took urgent action on a large number of cases, affecting many lives in Iran,” said a statement released by a group of human rights organizations. “For all of us defenders of human rights in Iran, she was a companion in the struggle for a more just, free and equal Iran. As she leaves us today, we want to celebrate and remember her courage, her energy, and her passion for the cause of rights, equality, and respect for everybody’s dignity, in Iran, in Pakistan, and beyond.”