Prominent Pakistani human rights defender Hina Jilani becomes new OMCT President
Geneva, 29 November 2016 (OMCT) – Hina Jilani, the newly elected President of the World Organisation
Against Torture (OMCT), in the face of challenging political rhetoric pledged
to uphold human rights principles and convince the world that torture should
never be used.
was elected to a four-year term on Saturday 26 November at the organization’s
General Assembly meeting held every four years. Addressing OMCT partners and members
of its SOS-Torture network of more than 200 non-governmental organizations
around the world, she said she would focus on boosting its cohesion to make its
“We can’t just condemn points of
view; we have to convince people,”
she said. “We have to show them that these values did not come out of nothing,
that they are worth being preserved. We
have to show that undermining these values is not in the best interest of
An award-winning lawyer from Pakistan
and active for
the last three decades in promoting peace, human rights and women's rights, Ms. Jilani has litigated several cases in her home country which
have become landmarks in setting human rights standards. Ms. Jilani intends to build upon the work of her
predecessor Yves Berthelot, who throughout his presidency had already pushed
for greater collaboration and information dissemination within the SOS-Torture network,
which has grown four-fold since its creation in 1985. At a time of increasing
insecurity for the human rights community, the election of a practitioner from
the South comes as a reassurance of OMCT’s investment in building its network
as a powerful strategy to combat torture.
General Assembly elected its new Executive Council, now consisting of:
Dick Marty and Mokthar Trifi, two leading human rights lawyers from Switzerland
and Tunisia respectively, as Vice Presidents. Other members of the OMCT include
Olga Sadovskaya (Russian Federation), Yves Berthelot (France), Aminata Dieye
(Senegal), Samuel Mohochi (Kenya), Jahel Quiroga (Colombia), Claudia Samayoa (Guatemala), Henri Tiphagne (India) and Peter Zangl (Germany) and Anthony Travis (Treasurer).
A leading figure of the human rights movement
“Ms. Jilani will be a very good
president because what she knows about human rights and torture she learned not
from books but from real life,” said the outgoing President, a former UNCTAD
joint Secretary General who has successfully led OMCT for the past eight years.
Ms. Jilani created Pakistan’s first all-women law firm
and co-founded Pakistan’s first legal aid centre in 1986. In 1991 helped set up a shelter for women fleeing violence and
abuse and presented one of the first cases of domestic violence in the country.
Ms. Jilani was also one of the founders of the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan, an NGO promoting
human rights in Pakistan. She also created Pakistan’s Women Action Forum, a
prominent women’s rights group whose campaigns have been at the heart of the
democracy movement in the country. Ms. Jilani has been a lawyer at the Supreme
Court of Pakistan since 1992.
At the international level, she was
the first United Nations Special
Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of Human Rights
Defenders, and was the first woman to hold this
office, from 2000 to 2008. As such, Ms. Jilani participated in formal and informal Expert
Group meetings of UN human rights bodies, and was appointed in 2006 and 2009,
respectively, to the UN International Fact-Finding Commissions on Darfur and on
the Gaza Conflict.
expertise and lifelong dedication to human rights has earned her international
recognition. In 2013, she joined The Elders, a group of statesmen, peace
activists and human rights advocates, brought together by Nobel Peace Prize
winner Nelson Mandela. In 2000 she was honoured with the Amnesty
International Genetta Sagan Award for Women’s Rights, just a year after she was
awarded the Human Rights Award by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Now is the time to step up efforts
She spoke after a two-day forum
organized on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of OMCT and its SOS-Torture
network, along with high-profile representatives such as UN Human Rights
Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, who shared concern that many countries were
“returning to authoritarianism”, human rights defenders around the world were
under “enormous pressure”, and that reprisals and arbitrary detentions were
increasingly done under the pretext of fighting terrorist activities. The High
Commissioner said he feared that declarations such as United States
President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign declarations (condoning ill treatment
such as “waterboarding”, for instance) might inspire other Governments to
resume resorting to torture, hence exacerbating the practice around the world.
She also seemed undeterred by the consequent risks of wavering support of multilateral institutions, since the US election and the British “Brexit” vote triggered a wave
of speculation as to a possible shift in funding priorities away from
international aid, and since the withdrawal by several States such as South Africa, Burundi, Gambia and Russia from the International Criminal
Court, triggered concerns over the deconstruction of a system built up to
protect victims of serious human rights violations.
“This is not an easy time for human
rights defenders, but when has it been for us? We keep our determination
despite all the challenges,” she told activists. “The global donors must
understand that if there is hesitation in supporting these human rights
defenders and their networks it will only reduce our outreach. But we did it
before we had money. We have no reason to believe that this is a favour to any
one organization or community.”
Ms. Jilani said that OMCT was one of
the organizations best placed to uphold human rights and combat torture, adding:
“It has the experience, the capacity, and the knowledge to take this challenge
The OMCT Executive Council is now composed of:
Pakistan: Hina Jilani, President
United Kingdom: Anthony
France: Yves Berthelot
Tunisia: Mokhtar Trifi, Vice-President
Senegal: Aminata Dieye
Kenya: Samuel Mohochi
Colombia: Jahel Quiroga
Russia Olga Sadovskaya
India: Henri Tiphagne
Germany: Peter Zangl
About the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
OMCT is short for the World Organisation Against Torture – in French, as
the organization created in 1985 is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. OMCT
works for, with and through an international coalition of over 200
non-governmental organizations – the SOS-Torture network – fighting torture,
summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and all
other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in the world.
For more information, please visit: www.omct.org
For our latest campaign #HumansAgainstTorture: www.joinhat.org.
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For all media inquiries: Lori Brumat, OMCT Head of Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org.