Everything is a risk in Pakistan: If you defend women, it's a risk. If you defend non-Muslims it's a risk. If you discuss religion, it's a risk. But you can't really sit there like a vegetable in your own society. And I'm committed to that society... and I feel I need to turn around and speak as I should. (Asma Jahangir)
Asma Jahangir showed incredible courage in defending the most vulnerable Pakistanis women, children, religious minorities, and the poor. Having founded the first legal aid center in Pakistan in 1986, Jahangir courageously took on very complicated cases and won. For her relentless campaigning against laws that discriminate against women, and for continuously speaking truth to power, Jahangir has been threatened, assaulted in public, and placed under house arrest.
Asma Jilani Jahangir was a Pakistani human rights lawyer and social activist who co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Jahangir was known for playing a prominent role in the Lawyers' Movement and served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and as a trustee at the International Crisis Group.
She 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 Law College in 1978. In 1980, she was called to the Lahore High Court, and the Supreme Court in 1982. In the 1980s, Jahangir became a democracy activist and was imprisoned in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq. In 1986, she moved to Geneva, and became the vice-chair of the Defense for Children International and remained until 1988 when she returned to Pakistan.
Everyone is entitled to a dignified life and no society can advance unless the individuals within it are free from fear and can at least enjoy basic political rights.(Asma Jahangir)
In 1987, Jahangir co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and became its Secretary-General. In 1993, she was elevated as the commission's chairperson. She was again put under house arrest in November 2007 after the imposition of emergency. After serving as one of the leaders of the Lawyers' Movement, she became Pakistan's first woman to serve as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
Asma has co-chaired South Asia Forum for Human Rights and was the vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights. Jahangir made history when she was elected as the first female President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan in 2010.
Asma served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion from August 2004 to July 2010, including serving on the U.N. panel for inquiry into Sri Lankan human rights violations and on a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements.
In 2016, Asma Jahangir was named as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, remaining until her death in February 2018.
Jahangir has authored two books: Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan. She has received numerous awards including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and the Ramon Magsaysay Award, both in 1995, and the coveted Hilal-i-Imtiaz – the second-highest civilian award and honor given by the Government of Pakistan.