According to the City of Nuremberg Human Rights Office, Rehman was born in India in 1930 and served as an editor for several influential publications. As director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), he contributed to raising awareness about rights and fundamental freedoms. In a statement issued on his demise, the HRCP called Rehman a “titan of human rights” and said that his “conscience and compassion were unparalleled”.
For his noteworthy struggle for human rights in Pakistan, he was also honoured with an award by the New York-based human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch.
Rehman started working at a young age, according to human rights activist and former chairperson of the HRCP Zohra Yusuf. She said that Rehman worked as editor of the Pakistan Times before joining the HRCP in the early 90s, first as director and later as secretary general. Tributes poured in from all quarters as news of Rehman’s passing spread.
In 2003, he was recipient of the Nuremberg Human Rights Award along with Teesta Setalvad, secretary Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) from India.
“Ibn Abdur Rehman was born in India in 1930 and now lives in Pakistan. Ever since Rehman has been dealing with his country, independent since 1947, he had to deal with governments who were either military governments or depending on being tolerated by the military. This led to the suppression of fundamental freedoms, distortion of the system of governance and the rule of law. Dissent is rarely tolerated. Human rights work under these conditions is both challenging and risky. Nevertheless Ibn Abdur Rehman has committed himself – as a journalist and human rights activist to the struggle for the rights of the powerless, for social justice and civil liberties in Pakistan. He even went to prison for his beliefs for some time.
His commitment began in 1950 when he was an editor for several influential publications such as “The Pakistan Times” some newspapers critical of the government who opposed the war in Bengal. Rehman has continued this line up until today, when, in his function as a mediator in the on-going conflict in Kashmir, he has been meeting organisations on both sides of the divide in order to foster better understanding and co-operation in this region. As a founder member of the “Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy“, a forum which encourages person-to-person contacts and exchanges, he has been pleading for peace and reconciliation between the neighbouring countries. For this work he is well known in peace circles both in India and Pakistan, but also incurred the wrath of the military establishment and of militant hard-line Islamic organisations.
Today, Rehman continues to write on human rights issues for Pakistan’s leading newspapers and journals. His work as a journalist has, however, been pushed into the background, since he became a member of the “Human Rights Commission of Pakistan” HRCP, an independent non-government body founded in 1986. Right from the beginning he has been a moving force behind the commission’s policy decisions, leading to actions and campaigns on specific issues. Thus, for example, the HRCP campaigned for legislation against bonded labour, for improvement in the juvenile justice system and for the restoration of the joint electorate system, a system of suffrage independent of religious affiliation. Since 1990, he has been the director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In this capacity, he has contributed greatly to raising awareness about human rights and fundamental freedoms. He travels widely in the entire country in order to encourage people – even in the remotest parts of the country – to fight for their most elementary rights. Rehman has also rendered yeoman services to the religious minorities in Pakistan who have repeatedly suffered from religious persecution and discriminatory practices. For example by drawing attention to the plight of Christians charged under the blasphemy laws.
As chairman of the HRCP, he was also involved in the founding of several associations, such as the “Joint Action Committee” in Pakistan, of the “Asian Forum for Peace and Development” and of the “South Asian Forum for Human Rights” who all fight for the cause of social justice, both locally and regionally. Since 1998, he has been chair of the South Asian Human Rights Forum. In 2000, Rehman joined a large group of Indians and Pakistanis who decided to found “South Asians for Human Rights”. During the associations first convention in November 2001 in New Delhi, he was elected a member of its executive.
The wide experience of the now 73-year-old and his reputation for analytical thinking, his credibility and integrity made him highly sought after by NGOs for consultations and as a guest speaker far beyond the Asian region. In 1994, Ibn Abdur Rehman was declared “Human Rights Watch Monitor”. For his remarkable struggle for human rights in his home country, he was furthermore honoured with the award of the New York human rights organisation “Human Rights Watch”.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan has lost a “true icon”.
“A staunch advocate and activist for human rights and an intellectual, Rehman sahib leaves behind a rich legacy that speaks of tolerance, inclusion, equality and dignity,” he said.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari also expressed her condolences, saying Rehman was a “unique personality … who stood by & struggled steadfastly for what he believed in”.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said she was “shocked and immeasurably saddened” to hear of the journalist’s passing. “He was an icon of integrity, standing steadfast for every single fundamental right, every single democratic value in the worst of times. Pakistan will not be the same without him,” she said.
Lawyer Jibran Nasir called Rehman a “teacher, mentor and inspiration to many who always stood to defend human rights through during the darkest times and under the most oppressive regimes in our country’s history”.