Asma Jahangir, Pakistani human rights activist and outgoing president of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association, was awarded the 2011 United Nations Association of USA (UNA-USA) Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force award November 9 at a special ceremony at the Grand Hyatt in New York.
Jahangir spoke about fighting the odds to uphold human rights as a former rapporteur for the UN and the challenges she faced as an international monitor on human rights in Pakistan.
"Islamization [by the Pakistani government] targeted women and religious minorities," she explained. "It was because they wanted to show that they really meant business with hardcore Islamization, and women and religious minorities were easy targets. But women came out in the streets. Many of us suffered imprisonment [or] house arrest, but that did not deter us because we were looking for something better."
Jahangir has worked relentlessly for human rights in Pakistan and has suffered house arrest and continued threats to her life in her sturggle for both disadvantaged groups and the LGBT community in the country. She was also twice elected as chairperson of the Human Rights Comission of Pakistan.
Jahangir, who has also served both as UN special rapporteur — on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary execution — and more recently as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said she was very worried by the blasphemy law in Pakistan and its application.
“If defamation of religion is considered to be a human rights issue, then the whole framework of human rights is going to get disrupted because, what is defamation of religion?" Jahangir asked. "[If] my saying I don’t agree with your religion or I don’t care for your religion is [considered] defamation of religion ... [this] asphyxiates debate. There is no freedom of expression."