The AGHS Legal Aid Cell – the first one in the country set up by a group of young women lawyers in 1987 in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city and the capital of the Punjab province, quickly acquired a leadership position with respect to constitutional and particularly family related law work. The fundamental principles of AGHS policy are essentially concerned with strengthening respect for human rights through building a stronger constituency of activists, mainly women to challenge non-discrimination, violence and threats against the vulnerable and to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. AGHS uses reform in laws, policies, court interventions, research, building partnerships from the grass root level to decision makers, training to be an effective activist, intervention in media and providing access to justice to those who are vulnerable. The main target of AGHS remains women, children particularly those in prisons, bonded labour and religious minorities. However, AGHS has also taken up some impressive cases to defend those accused of blasphemy, constitutional petitions to challenge military courts, case for the protection of those who are tortured or kept under arbitrary detention as well represented the families of those who disappeared. It has won a number of landmark cases in promotion and protection of human rights. AGHS is a small but well-knit organisation that is reputed for its quality service in legal aid. It has a wide impact despite limited financial and human resource at its disposal because the organisation is committed to raise the level of awareness on human rights issues and has succeeded in doing so in many respects. It was the first organisation to raise the issue of women and girls being killed on the plea of honour. Some of AGHS’s Board members and staff have risked being physically attacked, threatened and vilified for their actions and open conviction on the promotion of women and minority rights. It has also been at the forefront of the women’s movement in the country and an active supporter of the Women’s Action Forum since 1983, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was set up at the AGHS office. South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) was also proposed and initially setup by AGHS, who hosted its Secretariat for six years.
The overall objective of the organization is to strengthen respect for human rights through peaceful means, activities and strategies that contribute to the exposure and removal of violence; legal, social and economic discrimination, inequality, injustice and disempowerment; and the creation and reinforcement of institutions and mechanisms for the protection, promotion and implementation of human rights.
AGHS subscribes to the international standards of human rights recognized in all instruments in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms adopted by the United Nations.
AGHS considers the civil society as a critical element in the progress and strengthening of human rights, and integral to all notions of an international community. It, therefore, believes in involving and addressing the civil society as much as the state in all aspects of its work.
While AGHS cooperates with the government on all initiatives that genuinely advance the cause of human rights, it does not see itself as a partner with the government in respect of any programs. The organization participates with the government in training, awareness, and dissemination of human rights whenever the opportunity arises and wherever the situation so demands. However, it believes that it must maintain and protect its objectivity, independence and autonomy in order to discharge its functions of monitoring and assessing state practices on human rights. Its cooperation with the government is always in the capacity of an element of the civil society and as a contribution of the civil society in the progress of all initiatives on human rights.