Hina Jilani – Pakistan

Linked with Alarmed at rising violence in Sri Lanka, and with AGHS Legal Aid Cell.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Lawyer Hina Jilani, who began practicing law during the martial law regime in 1979, has set standards for human rights protection, and for her own profession.

Hina Jilani - Pakistan two.jpg

Hina Jilani – Pakistan

She works for AGHS Legal Aid Cell.

She says: “I was doing a lot of work with women in prisons. After this particular law came in, the involvement of women in the criminal justice system was much greater than ever before. The number of women in prison had swelled.

The whole issue of custodial violence had become more of a serious concern. . . . A lot of things were happening to which I had to respond in a very practical manner. This is where I think . . . my work [moved] toward women’s human rights. But it was an interesting time because it was not just women’s rights at that point. There was a martial law, against which a political movement for the restoration of democracy was going on. I was very much a part of that. It was a new perception of women’s rights in a way, because I very strongly felt that women’s rights could not be fought for individually. They had to be part of the larger human rights movement-a very political movement.”

She says also: “I’m happy to say that the human rights movement in Pakistan was triggered by the women’s rights movement. Because [of this], . . . women’s human rights issues have been a priority on the human rights agenda. And the right kind of sensitivity to women’s rights issues is there in the human rights movement. It’s a very cohesive movement in Pakistan. I’m a human rights activist, but I could never be a human rights lawyer sitting at a desk. I have to go to court, that is something that inspires me most. To be able to go to court, to take a lot of cases, whether they’re individual cases or collective rights cases-it gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Even if I lose, it may not give me satisfaction, but it gives me the sense that I have to fight more. . . . There is a lot of frustration. The kinds of judges and the kind of judicial system that we work with are not the best environment to give you encouragement in the kind of work that we do.” (Read the whole Interview on ABA, American Bar Association).

Hina Jilani (born 1953) has set standards for protecting human rights in Pakistan, especially the rights of women. For over two-and-a-half decades, this dedicated lawyer has fought discriminatory laws that have turned women into second-class citizens in their own country. She has also set standards for her own profession by providing free legal aid to hundreds of clients, and by setting up a shelter for women fleeing violence and abuse.

Hina Jilani started practicing law in 1979, when Pakistan was under martial law, with no sign of democracy on the horizon. There was a deliberate effort by the martial law regime to deny women the equal rights they enjoyed under the Constitution, and to relegate them to the status of second-class citizens by relying on obscurantist interpretations of Islamic law. It was in this climate that the infamous Hudood Ordinance came into being, bringing discriminatory laws into force.For a dedicated young lawyer, it was the worst of times, but also in a sense, the best. Fighting unjust laws became the focus of Hina’s work and indeed, her mission. Over two-and-half decades, Hina has handled a string of cases that have become landmarks in setting standards for human rights in Pakistan, especially the human rights of women. A significant number of these cases concern the violation of women’s right to security, and the deprivation of liberty under unjust and discriminatory laws. Many of the cases that Hina fought successfully have been reported in law journals and cited as precedents in courtrooms across the country by lawyers fighting to redress the wrongs of women. For example, Hina was able to get favorable judgments from the courts on the question of a woman’s right to marry a man of her own choice, and without the consent of a guardian.

Hina’s struggle for the human rights of women generated awareness in her country of the negative impact of customary laws and religious laws on women. It created the climate for changing laws relating to the practice of “honor killings”, and for the movement for the repeal of the Hudood Ordinance. Such a demand that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, since it would be been interpreted apostasy and a questioning of religious authority.

Hina’s work for women victims of violence led to the setting up of the first women’s shelter in the private sector, and, indeed, the first in the country to be governed by the principle of recognizing its residents as adults who had a right to choose how they wished to live.

Hina and her sister, Asma Jahangir, who set up Pakistan’s first all-woman law firm in 1981, set standards for their profession by setting up the AGHS Legal Aid Cell in 1986, the first free legal aid center in Pakistan.Hina’s work has benefited not just women but other oppressed people including children, minorities, and political and other prisoners. Her work for bonded labor led to the promulgation of an act abolishing it in the country in 1992, and encouraged laborers to fight for their rights. Her battle for the rights of children, especially the protection of child laborers engaged in hazardous work, led to the promulgation an act regulating the employment of children in 1991.

Hina has worked with regional, national and international organizations in the area of human rights. She worked with NGO coalition for the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC) on the proposed text of the ICC’s statute. She also serves as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General with regard to human rights defenders.Her family has stood by her. Hina’s father resigned from government service in the 1950s to protest against the military takeover by General Ayub Khan. He continued his struggle for democracy and Constitutional rights in Pakistan into the 1960s and the 1970s, and was mainly responsible for the inclusion of fundamental rights in Pakistan’s 1962 Constitution. After Ayub Khan, rulers Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto also detained him for opposing them. Hina’s sister, Asma Jahangir, is a human rights lawyer of great repute, and the two sisters work closely together.

While civil society has supported and admired Hina, she has encountered great hostility from the establishment. She has been threatened time and again: one one occasion, a client was shot dead in front of her eyes. Another time, gunmen entered her house and threatened members of her family. She herself was away from home: the threats put pressure on her to migrate, but she refused, and continues to live and work in Lahore. (Read this on 1000peacewomen).

(Excerpt): … Hina Jilani, a lawyer and human rights specialist, said Mr Rauf was lucky because the government had admitted he had been taken into custody and interrogated … (Read the whole article in the Guardian).

Last week, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on human rights defenders Hina Jilani, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions, Philip Alston, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, expressed alarm at the growing violence, especially the killing of relief workers from French organization Action against Hunger who were providing assistance to survivors from the 2004 tsunami when they were murdered execution-style in the town of Muttur. (Read the whole article of August 14, 2006, on UN News Center).


Amnesty International in Netherland;

Ono on the cross;

IPS – no justice for jailed juveniles, July 25, 2006.

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