Pakistan’s renowned social activist Asma Jahangir was posthumously honoured by the UN with a prestigious human rights award.
Jahangir, an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, fought against religious extremism and for the rights of oppressed minorities in Pakistan. She died of cardiac arrest at the age of 66 in February.
She was honoured with the 2018 United Nations Human Rights Prize, an award given every five years since 1968.
Jahangir’s daughter Munizae Jahangir received the award on her behalf from President of the UN General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa at a special ceremony here Tuesday.
Among others who won the award include girls’ education rights activist Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania, Brazil’s first indigenous woman lawyer Joenia Batista de Carvalho and Front Line Defenders from Ireland, working to protect human rights defenders at risk.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the work of the honorees and that of other human rights defenders around the world is essential for the collective efforts to sustain peace and ensure inclusive sustainable development and respect for human rights for all.
“Often their work is dangerous. We regularly hear of abuses against human rights defenders — murder, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment and other attempts to silence them.
“Yet, these courageous individuals and groups remain committed to shining a light on the dark corners of the globe, wherever human rights violations occur,” he said in his remarks to the General Assembly’s United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights award ceremony.
The event commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marked annually on December 10.
Guterres said human rights defenders give voice to the voiceless and shield the powerless against injustice.
“They stand for all rights — economic, civil, political, social and cultural. They support the rule of law or work peacefully to change laws so women and girls, indigenous communities, minorities and other marginalised groups may exercise their rights,” he said.
Guterres said they work to empower people through education and help to protect other human rights defenders from harassment, intimidation or arrest.
As part of the UN’s activities in observance of Human Rights Day, which coincided with the Declaration’s anniversary, the champions in the field from across the world, convened at the General Assembly Hall to be recognised for their outstanding contributions.
Every five years, the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights is awarded to organisations and individuals which embody excellent activism in defending human rights.
The four winners join a notable group who have been recognised since the Prize was established by the General Assembly in 1966, including prominent figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Malala Yusafzai and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, as well as organisations such as the Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Espinosa said it was one of the most important contributions that the world body has made to mankind, reflecting the collective aspirations of an international order founded on human dignity and with a view to making the world a better place.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said upholding all people’s human rights is the only possible path to peace.