LAHORE    -   Distinguished speakers paid rich tributes to human rights champion Asma Jahangir for dedicating her life to service of  humanity, particularly marginalised communities.

A good number of politicians, diplomats, lawyers, judges, journalists, activists, and students from different countries participated in the “Asma Jahangir Conference – Roadmap for Human Rights” at a local hotel on Saturday.

The second edition of the two-day moot that held under the aegis of AGHS, Pakistan’s first and leading law firm founded by Asma Jahangir in 1980 to provide free legal representation to the vulnerable.

The conference began with a minute of silence to mark the expulsion of Mr Steven Butler, Head of the CPJ Asia, from Pakistan. Authorities had deported Mr Butler from Lahore airport citing his name on the “stop list” early this week.

European Union Ambassador (designate to Pakistan) Dr Bahia Tahzib¬¬-Lie addressed the inaugural session “Asma’s Legacy: Speaking truth to power” on first day and paid rich tributes to late Asma Jahangir for her services and commitment in protecting human rights. Several foreign delegates also highlighted their work with Asma Jahangir and the centrality of human rights issues to sustainable development around the world.

While addressing different sessions of the conference, the panels discussed at length topics such as freedom of electronic and print media, human rights crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, opportunities for women in the field of law, upholding the rule of law, conflict in Afghanistan, and the global experience of women in the legal profession.

The panel on “Human Rights crisis in Jammu and Kashmir” included Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Raja Farooq Haider, former foreign minister Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, British Author Ms Victoria Schofield, Kashmiri journalist Tariq Naqash and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front spokesperson Rafiq Dar.

Raja called for solid steps to help Kashmiris get freedom in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. He said that Pakistan’s government failed to do anything concrete except holding seminars and speeches despite the ongoing curfew in Indian Occupied Kashmir imposed by army 76 days ago.

The AJK PM said that the sufferings of the people of Kashmir could not be explained in words since Indian Prime Minister Modi had been implementing his evil plan step by step. He also came down hard on the Pakistani government for doing nothing and just demanding India to lift the curfew from the Occupied Kashmir. “Can Kashmiri people get freedom if the curfew is lifted?” he questioned.

He urged that Pakistan should present the face of Kashmiris on all international forums. He said the Indian Occupied Kashmir was not a dispute between Pakistan and India but it is a matter of freedom and Pakistan is standing with Kashmiris. 

He went on to say that the people of Kashmir had nothing to lose. “We shall either get freedom or get perished, he said. The AJK PM while referring to Pakistan government said that Kashmiris may be left alone if Pakistan cannot do anything practical. “We will do it on our own,” he said. The AJK PM also lauded the struggle of Asma Jahangir for the freedom of Kashmir.

While Raja Farooq Haider acknowledged that there had been missed opportunities in Kashmir, Ms Hina Rabbani Khar suggested that Pakistan should continue to preserve on the path of moral high-ground. Eminent historian Victoria Schofield described the lives of Kashmiris as “the hopelessness of a people trying to exist in a society without the rule of law.”

Panelists also agreed that Pakistan must actively lobby and continue to engage with international bodies on Kashmir at each and every forum. Everywhere in the world today states are getting the message that it is acceptable to go rogue, they argued. Instead of pointing fingers, Pakistan must seek to preserve democratic institutions and demonstrate its resolve. To this end, it must also understand the fundamental difference between “raising our voice” and “creating real change.”

Ms Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan must not lose high moral ground it had been standing and associate international bodies on the Kashmir issue. She said Mr Modi had been a mock to his own state, constitution, and the people.

The panel on “Electronic and Print Media in Pakistan” was moderated by Amber Shamsi and included Mr Owen Bennett-Jones, Ms Christina Lamb, Mr Shahidul Alam, Mr Cyril Almeida and Mr Hamid Mir.

The panel resolved that in order to protect press freedoms, there must be solidarity between journalists, lawyers, policymakers and the civic society.

Polarization in modern society and lack of concern for truthfulness pose extraordinary challenges to journalism all over the world.

“There are cultural wars on-going on social media and it is a challenge for journalists to put out credible news in times of fake-news,” they said. These challenges must be met, not only by a redoubling of professionalism and dedication to truth, but more so in willingness to enter the sphere and fight for the truth rather than passively expecting truth to win by its own merits. Panelists were also of the view that perhaps a distinction also needs to be made between national interests and public interest.

The panel on “Upholding the Rule of Law” was moderated by Mr Saroop Ijaz and featured a keynote address by the Honorable Justice Faez Isa of the Supreme Court of Pakistan , Maleeka Bokhari, Mr. I A Rehman, Dr Musadiq Malik, Mr Zahoor Ahmed Shahwani and Mr Salman Akram Raja.

In his Keynote address, Justice Isa mentioned that “A nation is not an abstract idea that we store for safe-keeping.” He also highlighted the ideals of fundamental rights envisioned in the documents that define the essence of Pakistan. He concluded that even the Quaid-i-Azam urged “allegiance to the constitution (its true and legal implications) and the Dominion of Pakistan.”

The panel on ‘Upholding the Rule of Law’ resolved that laws must be just and equitable. Rules made illegally by individuals and rules that are made for the benefit or the exclusion of a few are not Rule of Law.

The challenges to rule of law in Pakistan include an all-encompassing opportunism and a constant national neurosis that portrays that while force is essential to our survival, just laws are a dispensable luxury. These challenges to the rule of law must be confronted by all citizens and institutions.

The panel on the Afghanistan Conflict included Mr Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Mr Omar Zakhiwal, Ms Kathy Gannon, Ms Fawzia Koofi and Mr Khurram Dastgir. Achakzai said the region is crying for peace which may remain elusive until there is implementation of a just system that ensures fundamental rights for all, especially women and minorities.

Mr Dastgir highlighted that Pakistan’s role is vital to peace in Afghanistan, being the neighbouring state. He said both countries must face the past that holds them together and respect each other’s territorial sovereignty and integrity. Panelists agreed that while Afghanistan is going through transitions on many fronts, the socio-economic upheavals in society were key de-stabilizers. Fawzia Koofi highlighted that one of the vital issues is the betterment of the condition of women, in each and every village of the country, which must not be lost sight of.