ON a warm Colombo summer evening, South Asians for Human Rights paid a rich tribute to their founding member, Asma Jahangir, who was a spokesperson of the organisation at the time of her passing.

SAHR was co-founded by Asma Jahangir, from Pakistan, IK Gujral, former prime minister of India, Dr Kamal Hossain, lawyer and politician from Bangladesh, Dr Devendra Raj Pancday, economist and activist from Nepal, and Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka, who is a former UN Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and a leading human rights lawyer.

SAHR was created as a democratic regional network with a large membership of committed human rights defenders to find a regional response to human rights issues. Speaking on the occasion to a houseful of human rights defenders from across South Asia, Radhika Coomaraswamy, recounting her memories of Asma Jahangir, said that Asma had the kind of courage that she not only fought for justice but also enabled kindness, generosity and integrity.

“When I worked with her very closely in the 1980s and the 1990s, she was known as the “little heroine”, this diminutive figure who was a doughty fighter for social causes but whose house was an open place where sensitive people from all over the world gathered, bonded and knew that she would always be there for them.”

Ms Coomaraswamy said that we owe it to Asma to fight for what is right and just in all our societies, and that the world is not as safe of a place as it used to be with Asma.

IA Rehman, a life-long colleague of Asma and a leading human rights defender from Pakistan, said that one critical challenge to human rights defenders is that we are struggling without Asma Jahangir. He said “what greater tribute can be paid to her than thousands of human rights defenders across the world are missing her tremendously and they feel that the journey is much harder without her.”

SAHR Chairperson Sultana Kamal presented Asma Jahangir’s daughter and prominent journalist, Munizae Jahangir, with a book compiled by the South Asian Human Rights defenders paying tributes to Asma Jahangir. Munizae Jahangir said Asma always believed in building linkages between the human rights community to defend those marginalised effectively. She said that Asma Jahangir fought for the dignity of South Asians and that her spirit will live on through her legal aid cell and the Asma Jahangir Foundation, which will support causes she championed for.

The tributes were followed by a reception and the event was attended by civil society of Sri Lanka and leading activists from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistan High Commission representative in Colombo, Intisar Ahmad Sulehry, also attended the event.

The participants resolved to carry the mission of Asma forward with the same courage and resilience she had displayed in her life.–Press Release