Asma Jahangir & world’s other human rights champions receive top UN prize

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UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 19 (APP):The top United Nations human rights prize, which was posthumously awarded to Pakistan’s iconic human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir was on Tuesday received by her daughter, Munizae, at an impressive ceremony in the General Assembly hall.

The award, a plaque, was handed over to Munizae Jahangir, a journalist and human rights activist herself, by the President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who conducted the proceedings before a large number of diplomats, human rights activists and senior UN officials.
“I wish my mother was alive today to receive this prestigious UN award,” Munizae said while speaking to APP after the ceremony at which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also participated, and paid tributes to Asma Jahangir’s contributions to advancing human rights and rule of law. “The void left by her passing away cannot be filled,” she said in an emotionally charged voice.
Asma Jahangir was one of the four winners of the award which was announced by the United Nations in October.
Others who received the award were: Ms. Rebeca Gyumi, a Tanzanian activist for the rights of women and girls, Ms. Joenia Wapichana, a Brazilian activist for the rights of indigenous communities, and Front Line Defenders, an Irish organization advocating and working for the protection of human rights.
Mrs. Jahangir, who passed away in February this year, was known for her outspoken nature and unrelenting pursuit for human rights as well as for remaining undaunted in the face of extreme pressure and opposition.
She is also remembered as a champion of the disenfranchised and for her services towards building a democratic and more inclusive Pakistan.
Mrs. Jahangir also served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions from 1998 to 2004, and as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief from 2004 to 2010.
The award is given to individuals and organizations in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Previous recipients have included Nelson Mandela, Amnesty International, Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Reverend Dr. Martin L. King and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, wife of Pakistan’s first Pakistani prime minister, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan and leader of Pakistan People’s Party, and Malala Yousafzai, a prominent Pakistani education activist.
The Human Rights Prize is awarded every five years, in accordance with a resolution of the General Assembly that was adopted in 1966. The prize was first awarded on 10 December 1968, the International Year for Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At the start of the award ceremony, Guterres, the UN chief, said that the “clear and profound” guidelines enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have made it the world’s most widely translated document.
“Wherever we live, whatever our circumstances or place in society, our race, colour, gender or sexual orientation, language, religion, opinion, nationality or economic status, we are all equal in human rights and dignity,” he said.
As part of the UN’s activities in observance of Human Rights Day, which coincided with the Declaration’s anniversary, human rights champions from across the world, convened at the General Assembly Hall to be recognized for their outstanding contributions.
The work they do is often dangerous, “yet these courageous individuals and groups remain committed to shining a light on the dark corners of the globe”, Guterres said.
He emphasized that “their work, and that of other human rights defenders around the world, is essential for our collective efforts to sustain peace and ensure inclusive sustainable development and respect for human rights for all.’
To the human rights defenders carrying out the work on the ground, the secretary-general said, “I admire their courage and sacrifice,” in a separate set of remarks to the General Assembly, honouring the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by consensus 20 years ago.
Threats to people’s rights have taken on many forms, including ” growth of intolerance and shrinking space for civil society,” he said, but despite the persecution of human rights and defenders, including campaigners, journalists, health workers and lawyers, these individuals remain steadfast in standing for “the principles and values on which our Organization is built.”