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The Dangers that Human Rights Defenders Face

Yesterday, I was reminded once again of the courage and commitment it takes to be a human rights defender and educator when we learned that Asma Jahangir, recipient of the 2012 Equitas Award for Human Rights Education and alumnus of our International Human Rights Training Program in 1990, is receiving very serious death threats in her native Pakistan. I’ve known Asma for almost 20 years and had the great opportunity to spend most of a week with her when she was in Canada this past April to receive our Award.  On numerous occasions, she was asked about the risks she faces on a daily basis – there have been attempts on her life and threats before.    While recognizing the danger, she responded that she would not be silenced by those would deny equality rights and basic respect for the human dignity of all.  It was an inspirational and humbling. Asma is being targeted for the very reasons that made her a worthy recipient of our award.  She is a leading human rights defender in Pakistan and an outspoken critic of the Government and security forces whose actions deny the rights in particular of women, religious minorities and children in Pakistan. She was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief from 2004 to 2010. Previously, she served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions and as well as Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. As I write this, Equitas is privileged to be hosting 108 similarly brave and dedicated individuals from 56 countries  – including a young woman from Asma’s organization in Lahore – for the next 3 weeks in the tranquil surroundings of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue on the Western tip of the Island of Montreal.  In three weeks time, they will return home and many will once again face personal risk and all will be up against tremendous challenges as they continue their work to promote greater equality, inclusion, respect, responsibility and accountability. I wish we could offer greater protection from the dangers that they will face.  However, I take comfort from knowing that the connections and networks they will form over the next three weeks can offer solidarity and valuable lessons learned in times of need. In Asma’s case, we are asking our global network of alumni (numbering over 3,500 human rights defenders worldwide) to write and express their concerns to the authorities in Pakistan. If you would like to join, please write to the Pakistani authorities urging them to ensure Asma’s protection and to vigorously investigate the allegations that the armed forces and intelligence agencies have plotted to kill her.  Messages can be sent to: President Zardari Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan Fax: 00 92-51-9207458 E-mail: publicmail@president.gov.pk Salutation: Dear President Zardari Dr. Zaheeruddin Babar Awan Federal Minister Ministry of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs Room 305, S-Block, Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan Fax: 00 92 51 9202628 E-Mail: minister@molaw.gov.pk Salutation: Dear Minister Please also copy the Pakistani Embassy or High Commission if there is one in your country. Ian Hamilton

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