EU backs Asma Jahangir Conference after Pakistani ministers' criticism

"Human rights and the rule of law are essential to the EU’s foreign policy," EEAS spokesperson says

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— Twitter/File
— Twitter/File

BRUSSELS: The European Union has backed the recently held Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore after federal ministers alleged it received foreign funding to further a partisan agenda.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) spokesperson, in a statement, said the European Union has been participating in the event since its inception in 2018.

"Human rights and the rule of law are essential to the EU’s foreign policy. Freedom of expression is key for a democratic, pluralistic, and dynamic society," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson noted that the EU and Pakistan are engaged in continuous dialogues on human rights, governance, and rule of law.

"The EU, together with other foreign missions, has been supporting the Asma Jahangir conference since its inception in 2018 in honour of the legacy of the human rights icon and lawyer," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said it was a unique platform for the legal community, human rights experts, journalists, students, and the wider public to discuss the challenges related to human rights and the rule of law.

Like previous years, politicians from all major parties had been invited and they also participated in the event, in addition to prominent members of the judiciary, the spokesperson said.

"This is essential that the cause of human rights and dignity as well as governance is supported and advanced by as many political actors as possible," they said.

The spokesperson noted that the EU ambassador to Pakistan had participated in two panel discussions — the opening with Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, and a discussion on Afghan refugees.

In the second panel discussion, Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudry was a keynote speaker, but he had declined to partake in the conference.

The federal minister had said, on November 21, that he turned down the invitation to the event as he was informed that an "absconder" was also invited to speak at the event.

The federal minister had further said that the conclusion of the Asma Jahangir conference with PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's speech is "a contempt of judges and judiciary".

"Conference addressed by CJP and senior judges is concluding with speech by an absconder. It’s nothing but a contempt of judges and the judiciary," Chaudhry tweeted.

He said that he has advised the Supreme Court Bar Association to "remain neutral".

"Advised SCBA that they should remain neutral, only then lawyers can contribute!" he wrote.

Then, in a press conference on November 23, the information minister, after a federal cabinet meeting, said: “A series of conferences held in Lahore and Islamabad were foreign-funded.”

The information minister, in the press conference, also revealed that during the cabinet meeting, Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari had urged the Foreign Office to discuss the matter with the donors of the events under section 41 of the Vienna Convention.