Irene Khan

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Irene Khan
Irene Khan 2003.jpg
Khan in November 2003
Native name আইরিন জোবায়দা খান
Born Irene Zubaida Khan
(1956-12-24) 24 December 1956 (age 61)
Dhaka, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)
Nationality Bangladeshi
Education Law
Alma mater University of Manchester
Harvard Law School
Occupation Director-General, International Development Law Organization
Title Chancellor
Predecessor Professor Sir Martin Harris
Successor Jackie Kay
Children 1 daughter
Relatives Mahbub Ali Khan (uncle)

Irene Zubaida Khan (Bengali: আইরিন জোবায়দা খান; born 24 December 1956) is a Bangladeshi lawyer who served as the seventh Secretary General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009). In 2011, she was elected Director-General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) in Rome, an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the promotion of the rule of law, justice and development. She was a consulting editor of The Daily Star.

Early life[edit]

Khan was born in Dhaka, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Her family came from Sylhet. She is the daughter of Sikander Ali Khan, a medical doctor; granddaughter of Ahmed Ali Khan, a Cambridge University graduate and barrister; and great-granddaughter of Asdar Ali Khan of Calcutta, the personal physician of Syed Hasan Imam. Her uncle, Rear Admiral Mahbub Ali Khan, was the chief of the Bangladesh Navy. She was the star pupil at St Francis Xavier's Green Herald International School, where she was the record holder at the school-leaving examinations.

During her childhood, East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971 following the Bangladesh Liberation War. Human rights abuses that occurred during the war helped shape the teenage Khan's activist viewpoint. She left Bangladesh as a teenager for school in Northern Ireland.[1]

Khan went to England, where she studied law at the University of Manchester and then, in the United States, at Harvard Law School. She specialized in public international law and human rights.[2]


Human rights[edit]

Khan helped to create the organisation Concern Universal in 1977, an international development and emergency relief organisation. She began her career as a human rights activist with the International Commission of Jurists in 1979.

Khan went to work at the United Nations in 1980. She spent 20 years at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 1995 she was appointed UNHCR India's Chief of Mission, becoming the youngest UNHCR country representative at that time. After less than one year in New Delhi the Indian government requested that se be removed from that position.During the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Khan led the UNHCR team in the Republic of Macedoniafor three months. This led to her being appointed as Deputy Director of International Protection later that year.

Amnesty International[edit]

Khan at the World Economic Forum 2007

Khan joined Amnesty International in 2001 as its Secretary General.[2] In her first year of office, she reformed Amnesty’s response to human rights crises and launched the campaign to close the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which held suspected enemy combatants. In 2004 she initiated a global campaign to stop violence against women. In May 2009 Khan launched Amnesty's "Demand Dignity" campaign to fight human rights abuses that impoverish people and keep them poor.[2][3]

Rule of law[edit]

During her leadership of IDLO, Irene Khan has promoted the notion that the rule of law is an important tool that can advance equity and people-centered development, whether in reducing inequalities or fostering social justice and inclusion for peace.

Other humanitarian initiatives[edit]

  • Interested in working directly with people to change their lives, Irene helped to found the development organization, Concern Universal, in 1977, and began her work as a human rights activist with the International Commission of Jurists in 1979.[3]
  • Khan is featured in a 2003 TV documentary titled Human Rights, by the French filmmaker Denis Delestrac. The film, shot in Colombia, Israel, Palestine and Pakistan, analyses how armed conflicts affect civilian communities and foster forced migration.
  • In 2009 Khan was featured in Soldiers of Peace, an anti-war film.[4][5]
  • Since 2010, Khan has served as a Member of the Board[6] for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.s://web. [as] it grants a licence


In 2008, she was one of the two finalists for the election of the new Chancellor of the University of Manchester.[10] In July 2009, she was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Salford[2] a post she held until January 2015.

In 2006 she was awarded the City of Sydney Peace Prize for "her leadership as a courageous advocate of universal respect for human rights, and her skills in identifying violence against women as a massive injustice and therefore a priority in campaigning for peace.[11]"


  • 2009: The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights (W.W. Norton & Co.) : ISBN 0-393-33700-6, translated into French, German, Finnish, Dutch, Italian, Korean, and special South Asia edition by Viva, New Delhi.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Irene Khan". Fawcett Society. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d "Amnesty International's Secretary General becomes the University of Salford's new Chancellor". University of Salfor d. 10 July 2009. Archived from the original on 6 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Document - Irene Khan - Biography". Amnesty International. 6 May 2009. Archived from the original on 16 May 2014.
  4. ^ "Irene Khan — The Cast — Soldiers of Peace". Archived from the original on 8 August 2009. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
  5. ^ "Soldati di Pace (Soldiers of Peace)". 18 October 2009. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
  6. ^ "Irene Khan, Member of the Board, HD". Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  7. ^ "Irene Khan - Biography" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Honarary doctorate". Over Universiteit Gent. Archived from the original on 19 March 2009. Retrieved 27 December 2008.
  9. ^ "SOAS Honorary Fellows". SOAS.
  10. ^ "Biographical Summaries" (PDF). University of Manchester. Retrieved 27 December 2008.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "2006 Irene Khan | Sydney Peace Foundation". Sydney Peace Foundation. Retrieved 2018-04-14.

External links[edit]

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Pierre Sané
Secretary-General of Amnesty International
Succeeded by
Salil Shetty
Academic offices
Preceded by
Professor Sir Martin Harris
Chancellor of the University of Salford
Succeeded by
Jackie Kay