LAHORE: The Asma Jahangir conference 2019 commenced here on Saturday with talks focusing on challenges to the rule of law and civil liberties.
The conference started with the address of Sulema Jahangir, who said that her mother was a life-long supporter of human rights.
“She spent her entire life campaigning for the rights of the disenfranchised. She challenged the brutal dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq and had to face long years of imprisonment. She raised awareness about issues such as honour killing, bonded labour, disappeared persons, blasphemy cases and violence against women.”
Pakistan Bar Council member Ahsan Bhoon in his address to the conference said, “Asma Jahangir was 18 years old when she began her struggle for democracy, justice and human rights in 1972 and witnessed severe hardships at the hands of successive governments.”
Judge Khatun Sapnara (Circuit Judge, England, and Wales) spoke about the need for academics, activists and human rights campaigners to come together and devise practical methods of supporting marginalised communities.
Pakistan Bar Council Vice-Chairman Syed Amjad Shah while addressing the conference spoke about the grave challenges faced by the judiciary. He reminded audience that Asma Jahangir was a pivotal figure in the history of human rights of the country.
The head of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Asia programme Steven Butler participated in the conference via Skype as he was denied entry into Pakistan. He said, “Press freedom is enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution but expulsion will not affect our reporting of Pakistan. Without human rights, no society can flourish, there can be no security.”
Justice Gulzar Ahmed spoke warmly about Asma Jahangir and her legacy. He said, “We hope that her work in defending the constitution and rights of the citizenry will be remembered and pursued by others because this is what the country needs today.”
Leading British lawyer Helena Kennedy spoke on how it was difficult for women to access justice. She said she Asma Jahangir was an institution within herself. “Her services would be written in golden letters and would be remembered forever.”
Vice-Chairman Pakistan Bar Council Syed Amjad Shah said, “It is an honour for us to participate in this conference. Nothing in the world can be done without courage and today we are here to pay tribute to one of the most courageous women the country history. She will be remembered forever for her outspoken nature.”
European Union Ambassador to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara said, “In these troubled times, when human rights are under attack globally and while nationalist forces are using toxic narratives of fear and division, people like the late Asma Jahangir who dared to make a stand against injustice and defend human rights need not only to be defended but also celebrated and remembered. This is what the EU does in many countries of the world. This is what this conference is about.”
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan Knut Ostby was also present at the conference and said, “She was a great woman and raised voice for all sections of society,” he said.
While starting the second session, titled ‘Electronic and Print Media in Pakistan’ discussion centred on restrictions imposed on media freedom.
While speaking to the session ‘Upholding the rule of Law’ HRCP president I.A Rehman said, “People have no equal access to law in Pakistan. No one accused of blasphemy can have a fair trial in the country especially if he belongs to a minority community.”
Renowned lawyer Salman A Raja said, “We are victims of national neurosis and may fall apart if we do not cultivate constitutions.”
Senator Musaddaq Malik and PTI MNA Maleeka Bukhari also addressed to the conference.