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14 August 1956|
|Occupation||Human Rights Activist|
Ansar Burney (Urdu: انصار برنی; born 14 August 1956) is a leading Pakistani human and civil rights activist. He graduated with of Masters and Law degree from Karachi University. He is widely credited as being the first man to introduce the concept of human rights in Pakistan nearly 30 years ago.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Positions held
- 3 Expert advisor to the United Nations Human Rights Council
- 4 Humanitarian activities
- 5 Lobbying against death penalty in Pakistan
- 6 Anti human trafficking, false imprisonment and slavery
- 6.1 Prominent cases
- 7 Anti-corruption movement
- 8 Allegations
- 9 Awards and recognition
- 10 Private life
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Ansar Burney was born on 14 August 1956 in Karachi, Pakistan. He is the son of the late Syed Mukhtar Ahmed Burney. He graduated with a Masters of Law degree from Karachi University.
Burney was a prominent student leader with the People’s Student Federation in his youth, during the 1970s, and was known to speak out for justice, human dignity, and civil rights. His efforts in the movement landed him in trouble with the military government of the time, and in 1977, at age 20, he was arrested on charges of delivering pro-democracy speeches against martial law and was sentenced to eight months rigorous imprisonment by the Martial Law Court. On his release in 1978, the Martial Law Authorities once again arrested him and sentenced him to prison for a further two months. In 1979, Burney was arrested for a third time and detained for a month.
During his detention in different Pakistani prisons, Burney witnessed, firsthand, the deplorable conditions and met numerous prisoners who had been imprisoned having committed no crime nor having been charged. Some had been in detention for over 40 years without ever appearing in court.
On his release, and the completion of his law degree in 1980, Burney set up the Prisoners Aid Society and the Bureau of Missing and Kidnapped Children in Karachi (Pakistan). He eventually formed Ansar Burney Trust International with offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Mirpur, Quetta, Washington D.C., and London.
The Ansar Burney Trust is a non-governmental, non-political, and nonprofit organisation which initially worked for the welfare of prisoners, reforms in prisons and mental asylums, and to trace missing and kidnapped children. However, it later widened its scope to cover all areas of human rights and worked against human trafficking.
Chairman: Ansar Burney Trust International
Established initially in 1980 as the Prisoners Aid Society and the Bureau of Missing and Kidnapped Children by Burney in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, the Ansar Burney Trust International (as it is now known) was the first Pakistani organization to fight for the concept of human rights in Pakistan.
With a mission to work as a non-political, non-governmental, and non-profitable organization, it started its fight against all forms of injustices, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, child abuse, cruelty to women, and other more subtle forms of human and civil rights violations without any discrimination or affiliation.
The Trust is a network of human rights organisations and volunteers working to deliver justice, better treatment of human beings, and for the rights and freedoms of civil liberty. It works to raise awareness, provide free legal advice. and services and humanitarian assistance where needed.
It has been involved in bringing reforms to police stations, prisons, and mental institutions, and worked for the aid, advice, release, rehabilitation, and welfare of illegally and unlawfully detained prisoners and mental patients. It also works for the rehabilitation and welfare of the families of these victims on humanitarian grounds in the greater interest of justice and humanity without any affiliation or consideration for any political party, group or activity.
The Trust has made steady progress in achieving its objectives and has started a number of centers for various projects in Pakistan and abroad. It also publishes newsletters and human rights reports to spread awareness of issues and to encourage more people to become involved.
Federal Minister for Human Rights (Pakistan)
On 16 November 2007, Burney was sworn in as Pakistan's caretaker federal minister for the newly established Human Rights ministry. He was in charge of establishing the ministry, creatiing a national commission on human rights, and overseeing the general elections in Pakistan.
During his term as a federal minister, Burney visited 25 prisons and mental asylums throughout Pakistan, resulting in the release of several hundred innocent persons including children as young as seven. He also pushed for further reforms to prisons, government controlled orphanages, and shelter homes for women.
Expert advisor to the United Nations Human Rights Council
On 27 March 2008, Ansar Burney was elected for a term of three years as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and due to "his recognized experience in the field of human rights and acknowledged competence and impartiality, Burney received wide support from all regional groups of the Council."
Prison reforms and prisoner rights
Burney has worked for the cause of justice for over three decades and has been successful in securing the release of around 700,000 confined persons from various sites around the world. As such, he is perhaps best known for his work for the release of illegally or wrongfully confined persons. These have included persons locked up for over 45 years on false charges or those confined in mental institutions even though they are perfectly sane.
Having been imprisoned himself, Burney witnessed the conditions in which prisoners were living and set about immediately to help them. He began by visiting many prisons and mental institutions in Pakistan looking for individuals confined on false charges, locked away without charge or persons who had been framed. He also began to speak out for reforms in prisons and mental institutions; and as a result, he has made great progress over the last three decades.
Through surprise inspections and by having representatives in prisons and mental institutions, the Ansar Burney Trust monitors to ensure that no prisoner or patient is abused. It has successfully lobbied for better living conditions and food, separate prisons for men and women, education and training for prisoners. It has put a stop to the shackling of mental patients and children in chains and has successfully managed to end the practice of jailed women giving birth in prison.
The Trust arranges parties and entertainment for prisoners and patients. Due to their lobbying and donations, better medical equipment and staff are now working in prisons and institutions — offering better medical service to prisoners and especially patients. Mental patients locked in prison due of lack of space in hospitals are sent back for better care. Women prisoners and patients who would have given birth in confinement, with only each other to help, are now under the supervision of female nurses after Burney raised this matter with the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The Trust's staff have met with female prisoners and patients to investigate charges of sexual abuse leading to a reduction in prison rapes. It lobbied successfully to ban female prisoners being dealt with by male staff.
Non-Muslim prisoners, unable to perform their religious duties before, are now provided what they need in order to practice their faith. In the month of Ramadan, non-Muslim prisoners are now provided food for by the Trust so they are not forced to fast.
The Trust has appointed 84 people in various jails and mental asylums to take care of mental patients and prisoners.
One of its achievements over the years has been the collection of data on Pakistani prisoners confined in different jails around the world due. The Trust provides legal advice and services to many such persons and arranges for their repatriation when released.
Similarly the Trust has also been able to obtain the release of a number of foreign nationals from Pakistani jails and returned them to their respective home countries at the Trust's expense.
Burney has been involved in the release of thousands of prisoners from prisons across the world. The following are some of the most prominent cases he had been involved in during his initial years as the head of the Prisoners Aid Society.
Syed Muzaffar Ali Shah
In 1985, Syed Muzaffar Ali Shah visited a police station to lodge a burglary report. He had been arrested under the Lunacy Act 37 years earlier. He was detained without ever being charged or presented before a court. He was finally released after the efforts of the Prisoners Aid Society.
Arrested by police at age 20 on charges of murder because he had the same name as the person they were looking for, Meher Din spent the next four years behind bars until he was acquitted. Rather than being released, he was re-arrested on another murder charge and spent the next seventeen years behind bars without ever appearing in court. He was eventually transferred to a mental asylum within a prison and had no contact with his family for 21 years. He was released in 1987 after he was discovered by Burney of the Prisoners Aid Society.
Mukhtar was arrested in an attempted murder case in 1952 in Kohat and was sentenced to seven years hard labour. After a year and a half in the D. I. Khan Jail, he was sent to the Peshawar Jail, where he remained for the next 18 years without being charged with any crime. In 1970, when someone noticed his continued incarceration, he was released but was rearrested in Karachi where he remained until 1987 when he was discovered by Ansar Burney who took this matter to the Sindh High Court and he was finally released. Mukhtar had spent a total of 35 years in jail.
A female prisoner was sent to prison in 1946 where she was raped and gave birth to Mohammed Akhter in 1948. The mother then died when Akhter was five years old. With no one to claim him, he spent 40 years in the prison, never leaving its premises. He was spotted by Ansar Burney during a visit to the prison and released in 1988.
Woman imprisoned for 55 years
A girl, whose name was never known, was arrested in 1936 at age 15 for upsetting the British Viceroy at the time. Without any charge or ever being presented before a court, she remained in prison for 55 years, becoming deaf and mute. She was released in 1991 at age 70 only after she was discovered by Burney who took up her situation with Sindh Governor, Justice (ret'd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, who ordered her immediate release.
A witness to the murder of her husband during the Muslim-Hindu riots of 1947, Ghulam Fatima lost her mental balance and was arrested by the police for loitering and sent to Lahore Mental Prison where she remained for 45 years. She was discovered by Burney during a trip to the asylum and released in 1992.
Lobbying against death penalty in Pakistan
For many years, as a human rights lawyer and expert on the Pakistani legal system, and well aware of its flaws, Burney has appealed to both the Pakistani Supreme Court and various presidents of Pakistan to commute the death sentence of all condemned prisoners to life imprisonment.
As a result of investigations by Burney and his organisation, many condemned to death in Pakistan are in fact either innocent victims of false testimonies or circumstances, or now mentally and physically disabled due to their decades-long confinement in harsh and inhumane conditions within Pakistani prisons.
In 2012, as a direct result of Burney’s petitions, former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari instructed various branches of the Pakistani government to provide advice on the possibility of converting all death sentences in Pakistan into life imprisonment. The president stayed or postponed executions for two years.
However, following the 2014 Peshawar school massacre, Pakistan lifted a moratorium on death penalty. It has to be noted that the moratorium was not put in place as a result of Burney's actions though he might have affected that earlier decision.
Anti human trafficking, false imprisonment and slavery
Burney is an internationally recognised campaigner against human trafficking and slavery, and has been working against such practices in Pakistan, the Middle East, and Africa for two decades. During that time, with assistance from various governments and authorities, his Trust has secured the release of thousands of people from false imprisonment and slavery across the world, including young girls sold in the sex trade and young children used for slavery. In 2005, the Trust was involved in the release and repatriation of 13,967 victims from the Middle East alone.
Child camel jockeys
Burney is particularly credited as the man whose efforts led to the end of child slavery in the form of child camel jockeys in the Middle East resulting in thousands of children were being freed returned to their homes in South Asia and Africa.
Beginning his campaign against child trafficking two decades earlier, Burney had been involved in raising awareness of the issue of child camel jockeys for many years and had been involved in the rescue and repatriation of many children from the Gulf region. During 2003–04 in the UAE alone, as per reports by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the US State Department, Burney had managed to rescue and repatriate over 400 children.
By 2005, the use of child camel jockeys was banned in the UAE, and in other neighbouring Gulf nations the year after, and in recognition the Ansar Burney Trust was declared an international best practice by the US State Department in its 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report. The report stated:
A noted Pakistani human rights activist, Ansar Burney has worked relentlessly to bring to light the plight of thousands of South Asian and African children trafficked to Arab countries in the Persian Gulf for exploitation as camel jockeys. These abused children, some as young as two years of age, are purposely malnourished (to keep them lightweight) and denied education. As a result of Mr. Burney's efforts, the Government of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) established its first-ever shelter for rescued child camel jockeys, and rescued 68 such children and repatriated 43 through the shelter. Mr. Burney oversees this shelter. He is quick to point out, however, that much more needs to be done to rescue, rehabilitate, and repatriate thousands of trafficked children throughout the Gulf region.
Burney continues on his mission to end any such existing practices across the Middle East. A documentary on his work rescuing child camel jockeys that aired on the American TV channel HBO won both an Emmy Award and an Alfred DuPont Award.
Framing and murder of 7 immigrants in Macedonia
Six Pakistani and an Indian immigrant attempting to cross illegally into Europe were arrested by Macedonian authorities in March 2002. A plan was hatched and the men were taken close to the US Embassy in Macedonia where they were murdered and framed as terrorists in an attempt to prove Macedonia’s credentials as a frontline US ally in the war on terror. At the time, it was stated by the Macedonian authorities that the men had travelled from Pakistan in an attempt to attack the embassy and the plan had been foiled by the actions of the Macedonian police. The pre-planned incident and framing was masterminded by then Interior Minister Ljube Boškoski. Details of this incident came to light after Burney’s intervention in the matter. He visited Macedonia to seek arrest of Boškoski (who fled the country), compensation for the families, and to have the victims' bodies returned to their homes.
Pakistani Taekwondo players falsely accused of terrorism
Ten Pakistani taekwondo players, who were representing their country in games being held in Latvia, were arrested in 2003 on terrorism charges. The players' families contacted Burney who in turn contacted the Latvian authorities to seek the men’s release. After an investigation, it was revealed that the players’ only crime was that they had booked a connecting flight to Pakistan via Russia – a flight on which an Israeli basketball team was also travelling. The men were arrested without any evidence, but purely due to the fact they were Pakistani and Muslim. Burney ensured the players’ release and repatriation to Pakistan.
Pakistanis sold into slavery in Sudan
In March 2005, 60 Pakistanis arrived legally in Khartoum, Sudan in search of a better future and to work a job they were promised by an agency at an oil company. However they found themselves to have been sold into slavery at a labour camp in Bageer (near Khartoum). Surrounded by armed guards and with no escape, the men spent five months in the private prison, working as slave labourers fed mostly boiled rice and dirty water.
When they finally managed to contact the Pakistani Embassy in Sudan they were given full support – until it was revealed that the company that arranged their travel and sold them into slavery was actually owned by a senior minister in Pakistan. The men were abandoned and left to suffer even longer. The Ansar Burney Trust was informed through volunteers and launched a campaign for the return of the men; who were finally returned a few months later.
Release of hostages from Somali pirates
MV Suez, a Panamanian flag cargo vessel with 22 crew members was hijacked by Somali pirates on 4 August 2010. The crew consisted of eleven Egyptians, six Indians, four Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan. The pirates demanded a ransom of $20 million from the ship’s owner; however they could only manage $1 million. In desperation, the pirates allowed the crew members to contact their homes. Unable to raise the large sum of money to pay the ransom, the families contacted Burney who, along with Governor of Sindh Dr. Israt Ibab, launched a national campaign to raise the funds. Burney travelled to the UAE, Egypt, Somalia, and India in a bid to secure the release of the crew members. He finally succeeded and the vessel was released on 13 June 2011. An operation was then launched by the Pakistan Navy entitled Operation Umeed-e-Nuh to escort the ship and its sailors to Karachi, Pakistan.
Offer to bring back the body of Ajmal Kasab
In November 2012, after the Government of India stated that Pakistan had refused to claim the body of slain Lashkar-e-Taiba Terrorist Ajmal Kasab, Burney offered to bring back the body to Pakistan citing humanitarian causes.
On 22 Aug 2011, Ansar Buney announced that following the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan, he would initiate an anti-corruption movement in Pakistan based on the popular movement of Anna Hazare in India.
While working for the release of Indian prisoner in Pakistan Sarabjit Singh's sister has alleged that Ansar Burney told her that 250 million rupees was being demanded by Pakistani army to bring Sarabjit Singh back to India.
Awards and recognition
Due to his prominent work, Ansar Burney is widely recognised as the first man to introduce the concept of human rights in Pakistan. In 1991, due to his work and achievements in the field of human rights at a young age, particularly his efforts for prison reforms and release of innocent prisoners, he was awarded the Outstanding Young Person of the World Award by the Junior Chamber International (JCI).
Burney was the first man to receive the Pakistani National Civil Award Sitara-i-Imtiaz on 23 March 2002. This was the first occasion in the history of Pakistan that such an award was awarded in the field of human rights.
In recognition of his two decade international campaign against human trafficking and to end child slavery in the Middle East in the form of child camel jockeys, Burney was declared an Anti-Human Trafficking Hero by the then-United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and in the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report by the United States Department of State.
For his humanitarian work and efforts to improve people to people relations between Pakistan and India, Burney was in 2008 awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial (International) Award by the Harmony Foundation in the field of Social Justice.
In 2011, due to his untiring efforts for the release of MV Suez and its crew from Somali pirates and his great achievements in the field of human rights for the last three decades, Burney was awarded the prestigious MKRF award by the Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Foundation.
In 2012, in recognition of his humanitarian work in Pakistan and abroad, Burney was awarded the Diamond Award by the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan MP, on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
Ten years after receiving the civil award Sitara-i-Imtiaz, on 14 August 2012, the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari announced the civil award Hilal-i-Imtiaz for Ansar Burney. Burney received this honour on 23 March 2013 at the Presidency in Islamabad.
Burney married Shaheen on May 28, 1981. They have three children: Fahad, Raheel and a daughter Sana.
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