HINA Jilani has been chosen for many awards in her life, but the Stockholm Human Rights Award must rank as something special. It is an honour conferred annually by the Swedish Bar Association, the International Bar Association and the International Legal Assistance Consortium. It is this recognition by one’s peers that makes it an extraordinary honour. Ms Jilani has been hailed as someone who has “dedicated her life to the protection of the vulnerable through her commitment to human rights and the rule of law. She has worked tirelessly and in situations of great adversity” and has shown the “resilience and courage” to divert “from the beaten paths” and speak “truth to power”. For those in Pakistan and abroad who have followed her journey closely these remarks would conjure up images in which the lawyer and rights activist is taking on an impossible task in the face of great adversity and at huge personal risk. Their concerns would be justified.

The reference here to peers, or one’s own people, also brings to the fore all those thoughts about how this country hasn’t quite been able to benefit from the exceptional talent in its midst. There are many Pakistanis of international repute whose expertise has not been utilised; not only this, but in some cases, they are also treated as a threat to the old order or seen as rebels promoting ‘dangerous’, progressive values. Ultimately, changing values do force their way into the mainstream as their protagonists wait for bolder, more proactive rulers for a movement towards the promised change in a truly just system. A government that claims to believe in genuine tabdeeli or transformation could learn a few things from the experience of someone like Ms Jilani in the areas of rule of law, women rights, civil rights, etc. Into its third year in power, it must realise that the delivery phase has arrived, and make good on all its promises to improve lives and ensure people’s due rights.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020

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