Bidding Farewell to I.A. Rehman, Pakistan’s Relentless Human Rights Defender


With the recent demise of I.A. Rahman, the honorary spokesperson and former secretary-general I. A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), South Asia and especially Pakistan lost a veteran human rights activist, journalist, and civil society activist.

Rahman was HRCP’s director from 1990 to 2008, and secretary-general from 2008 till 2016. “He was a co-founder of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, a bureau member of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), and former chairperson of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR). Most recently, he served as a member of the working group on torture and terrorism instituted by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and as patron of the People’s Commission for the Protection of Minorities’ Rights in Pakistan. Mr Rehman received Nuremberg City’s International Human Rights Award in 2003 and the Magsaysay Award for Peace in 2004.”

A statement released by HRCP said: “A titan of human rights, his integrity, conscience and compassion were unparalleled. He was one of the few voices to oppose military action in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 and was dismissed from service for trade union activities and detained for his views and work for civil liberties during General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law.”

Further, “In 70 years of journalism, his writing ran the gamut from film, literature and history to politics and human rights—subjects he tackled with an intellectual clarity and dry wit that remained as sharp and rigorous till his last column. Few people in Pakistan and beyond could match the depth and breadth of his advocacy against enforced disappearances, the death penalty and bonded labour, or his unwavering support for the rights of women, children, and religious and ethnic minorities.”

According to HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani: “I. A. Rehman leaves behind a strong legacy of speaking truth to power in a way that not only persuaded others of the value of respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, but also conveyed to those he criticised how damaging their role could be for the most vulnerable members of society.”

HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique referred to I. A. Rehman as “an ‘irreplaceable public intellectual’ who lent his voice to the voiceless and was a beacon of hope for the oppressed. ‘His human values, political insight, vast knowledge and depth of wisdom informed and educated all who worked with him in Pakistan in particular and South Asia in general.”