Asma Jilani Jahangir was a well-known human rights lawyer and a social activist. She died on Sunday in Lahore due to a cardiac arrest at the age of 66.
Jahangir was born and raised in Lahore, Jahangir studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary before receiving her B.A from Kinnaird and LLB from the Punjab University in 1978. In 1980, Jahangir was called to the Lahore High Court and to the Supreme Court in 1982.
She was also an outspoken critic of the powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of Pakistan’s top bar association.
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 also put under house arrest in 2007 by the government of then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf for her participation in the Lawyers’ Movement. In 2012 she claimed her life was in danger from the feared Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
Asma 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 received several awards, including a Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010 and a Sitara-i-Imtiaz. She was also awarded a UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights and an Officier de la Légion d’honneur by France as well as received the 2014 Right Livelihood Award and the 2010 Freedom Award.
There is still terrible violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded labourers, Jahangir told AFP during an interview in 2014, but human rights have made greater strides in Pakistan than may be apparent.
“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.”
In addition to many publications, Jahangir has authored two books: Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance (1988, 2003) and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan (1992). One of her major publications is titled “Whither are We!” and was published in Dawn, on 2 October 2000.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced, according to a statement by her daughter Munizae Jahangir, as the family waited for relatives to return to their hometown of Lahore.