Being a Hazara I am continuously facing serious threats to my personal and professional life. I have survived three suicide-bombing attacks outside the court building. Each day of my life I am at serious risk of being harmed by religious extremists and also by influential groups who are bitter opponent of women’s liberty, education, and political freedom.
by Jalila Haider Karmal
( January 18, 2017, Quetta, Sri Lanka Guardian) It seems like yesterday when my senior lawyers, colleagues, and mentors were smiling, giggling, taunting, and guiding; it was business as usual at the District Courts in Balochistan. This business as usual was all taken away from me suddenly. The morning of 8 August 2016 brought dramatic changes to my life; on that day 56 lawyers of the Balochistan Bar Council and Balochistan Bar Association got killed in a split second in a suicide attack.
Things have changed drastically and it seems now as if no one is left amongst us – neither a classical interpreter of statues nor defenders of human rights. The terrorists have virtually killed an entire generation of educated people of Balochistan. The voices for recovery of missing persons and the champions of the rule of law have been silenced forever.
Born in Balochistan Province of Pakistan, I hail from an extremely victimized ethnic minority group of the Province, known as ‘Hazara’, which is a sub sect of the Shia sect of Islam. I am the first female lawyer from my community and practicing with a law firm. It was very difficult to pursue a career in law given the persisting male-dominated environment around me, but I successfully met this challenge despite all odds.
Being a Female Lawyer in an Androcentric Culture
In 2011, I joined Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which is a prestigious forum in defending Human rights violations. In 2012, I joined National Commission for Justice and Peace, addressing the issues of non-Muslims of Pakistan, especially the Hindu community, against their forced conversion to Islam. As a policy-making member of National Commission for Justice and Peace, after three years of efforts, finally, the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 is introduced in Parliament to help eliminate enforced conversion of Hindu Girls.
In the year 2013, I became a working member of American Bar Association (ROLI), promoting Rule of Law in the context of domestic practice of International Human Rights Laws, and represented Pakistan in Nepal. I offered several lectures on fair trial, torture, preventive detention, and death penalty.
In the year 2014, I was selected for Emerging Leaders of Pakistan fellowship, a project of Atlantic Council and Meridian International in USA. Since last year, I am engaged with Inclusive Security, a project of the United States Institute of Peace, on drafting policy on counter violent terrorism with inclusion of women.
I believe it is through law that an effective and just social contract can be realized, where deprived, under-served, and victimized people can be helped, and equal rights and opportunities can be obtained peacefully and democratically.
In addition to being a lawyer, I am also a political activist raising voice for democratic and constitutional rights of women and other oppressed groups. As an active member of Balochistan Youth Forum (BYF), in collaboration with Center for Research and Security Studies, I have struggled to promote secularism, the rule of law, and harmony among the youth of Balochistan and in other provinces.
As a member of the Balochistan Youth Forum, I have advocated for the national rights of the people of Balochistan and have highlighted issues concerning provincial autonomy, fair justice for missing persons, and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch people.
Women Rights in Pakistan
The situation of women rights in Pakistan is dismal. Being a woman rights defender, I provide free legal aid and counseling to poverty-affected women on issues that include honor killing, domestic violence, marriage disputes, sexual harassment, property rights, etc. I also deal with the cases of missing persons or victims of forced disappearance. The biggest achievement has been safe recovery of three missing Baloch girls in 2015. As a result of civil society efforts, all three girls were recovered by law enforcement agencies in a short period of three days.
A weak justice system and lack of public confidence contribute to the cycle of rising violence and extremism. For this purpose, one of my initiatives includes free legal aid to poor men, women, and children of my district, i.e. Quetta, through my non-profit organization ‘We The Humans’. These cases have been decided and I have won all of them.
As a Human Rights defender, I appointed myself as a pauper counsel for 15 children below the age of 12 who were accused of terrorism in different areas of the City in the year 2014; the case is still pending before Anti Terrorism Court of Quetta, Balochistan. My legal aid services have helped them seek justice, which otherwise would not have been possible for them due to their impoverished economic conditions. I believe that the inability of this weak and overburdened system can fuel and support alternative justice systems, ranging from strict versions of Islamic law, to individuals who will take the law into their own hands.
Choosing human rights and rule of law as part of my struggle in legal procedure and practice is not based upon an idealist approach but is being done keeping in view the realistic need of my country and its people. Pakistan has been facing a crisis of leadership for decades. Military and civilian leadership that has had the chance to rule the country has not been able to put the country on the track of democratic values, where ruling parties influence justice. The main reasons for this state of affairs includes lack of democratic culture and attitudes, the rule of law, and corruption.
Lawyer and human rights defenders in Pakistan should be sensitive to the issues and problems of the people and be smart enough to seek their solutions and motivate people to rise up for implementation of the solutions. The most important quality consists in having a correct vision and facing all the challenges in the way with integrity, perseverance, and resoluteness. This can be attained when one has good command over interpretation and practice of their rights guaranteed by the law of the land. For this purpose, I struggle for the right to fair trail and access to justice for everyone and struggle to end the practices of enforced disappearance in Pakistan. One of the examples of raising voice for missing persons was the safe recovery of writer Wahid Baloch in 2016; I was also part of the campaign for his recovery.
Being a Hazara I am continuously facing serious threats to my personal and professional life. I have survived three suicide-bombing attacks outside the court building. Each day of my life I am at serious risk of being harmed by religious extremists and also by influential groups who are bitter opponent of women’s liberty, education, and political freedom. I have always faced and overcome these grave challenges by constantly reminding myself that one should never give up before the forces of regression, backwardness, and bigotry. One should always bravely take up challenges no matter how hard they are, if one possesses the desire to lead his people and fellow-beings ahead in the direction of progress, development, and well-being.
For my services to human rights I have received Emerging Young Women Leader Award 2015 from renowned Nobel Laureate Ms. Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman.
‘The News Woman Power 50’ named me, along with fifty other women, amongst the most powerful and influential woman of Pakistan in 2015. My service for the community was recognized by Rajiv Circle fellowship and I was invited as the first batch of Pakistani fellows in 2015 and represented Pakistan in Silicon Valley USA.
Importance of Negotiations and dialogues
In the year 2016, I have become Young Connectors of Future Fellow of the Swedish Institute and represented Pakistan in Sweden. In 2015, As a Human Rights Defender I was a youth delegate from Pakistan as part of Global Unites family in Sri Lanka. I am also nominated as Dukhtar-e-Pakistan (daughter of Pakistan) Award winner in January 2017.
Inspired by Martin Luther King and Gandhi, I believe that the grave challenges of the country call for immediate and resolute policy and the principle strategy of promoting the rule of law, respect for human rights and dignities, and conflict resolution with all stakeholders on-board.
Negotiations and dialogues should be promoted, as the only way to seek solutions to the problems, while safeguarding ones legal, social, and political rights in the country. I believe that the rule of law and democracy is the only way to overcome the legal, political and social problems of the country. Practical efforts can be taken to resolve those problems and elevate the people to take the ladder of social and legal progress.
Such dreams can become true if we try to affect the change before the change affect us; nothing is permanent except change itself and the universal truth is that change is inevitable.
About the Writer: Jalila Haider Karmal is the lawyer and human rights activist based in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province, she can be reached at; firstname.lastname@example.org .This article was originally published by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights monitoring, documenting, and advocating body.