Leading Pakistani human rights advocate Asma Jahangir has died, a family member said on Sunday, in a stinging blow to the country’s embattled rights community. She was 66.
The lawyer and former UN special rapporteur, who was always vocal against the atrocities committed by Pakistani army during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971, died of cardiac arrest, according to her sister.
“Unfortunately we have lost her,” said Hina Jilani, also a prominent rights activist, reports AFP.
Jahangir’s supporters and former opponents alike took to social media to offer their condolences and expressed shock at the news of her death.
“Asma Jahangir was the bravest human being I ever knew. Without her the world is less,” wrote prominent Pakistani lawyer Salman Akram Raja.
“I and many others didn’t agree with some of her views. But she was a titan. And one of the brightest and bravest ever produced by this country,” wrote journalist Wajahat Khan on Twitter.
Born in Lahore in 1952, Jahangir was the daughter of Pakistani politician and former West Pakistan Awami League Vice President Malik Ghulam Jilani.
The founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Jahangir had also harshly criticised the Pakistan government for demonstrating “disproportionately high passion” against the execution of the two infamous war criminals - Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid - of Bangladesh in November 2015.
“The government was only confirming the fact that two men were political agents and working for the cause of Pakistan,” Pakistani daily The Dawn had quoted the lawyer.
Also Read- Asma Jahangir for UN body to investigate genocide in 1971
In December 2015, Jahangir had asked for an independent UN body to investigate Pakistani military’s involvement in the atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s Liberation War after the Pakistan government claimed that there was no genocide in 1971.
“Why deny it? Why not get it investigated by an independent body set up by the UN? In this way the truth will be obvious and there can be a closure to the tragedy,” she had told the Dhaka Tribune through an email.
Jahangir received France’s highest civilian award in 2014 and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel Prize for her decades of rights work.
She braved death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases and stand up to dictators.
There is still terrible violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded labourers, but Jahangir told AFP during an interview in 2014 that human rights causes have made greater strides in Pakistan than it may appear.
“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 were 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.”
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.
She was also been an outspoken critic of the country’s powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of Pakistan’s top bar association.
The 62-year-old was arrested in 2007 by the government of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and in 2012 claimed her life was in danger from the country’s feared Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.