AJ CONFERENCE 2020 – Pathways to Democracy
Mission: Identifying challenges and finding solutions through civil discourse & consensus
In October 2018 and 2019 the Asma Jahangir (AJ) Conference was held in Lahore hosted by AGHS Legal Aid Cell and the Asma Jahangir Foundation in collaboration with the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. The first and second Asma Jahangir Conferences were widely attended by over 3000 participants, mainly from the legal community, to debate and discuss critical legal issues impacting fundamental rights in Pakistan and the South Asian region.
The AJ Conference attendees represented a vast range of ethnic, geographical, professional and gender diversity. It also served as a platform for the legal community to discuss and debate issues as well as to network with their counterparts across Pakistan and globally. The conference created a space for the legal community that was much-needed at a time when civil discourse has and continues to be severely constrained by censorship and the clamp down on freedom of expression.
Format of the Conference
To keep up the momentum, we plan to re-launch AJ Conference in 2020. As a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, AJ Conference will have an electronic format including live debates, videos and blogs. AJ Conference 2020 will host its own audio-visual portal at Voicepk.net to allow members of the public to interact with speakers at locations worldwide as if they are in the same room, creating a virtual conference to discuss and debate topics. We will use videoconferencing, Facebook, Instagram videos and Twitter to project the interactions, and liveliness of the debates.
The Conference will be held in a theatre setting in Lahore with a limited (socially distanced) audience which will be a cross-section of society representing lawyers, social and human rights activists from across Pakistan. Speakers will be connected through television screens, which will be projected in the theatre as well as online. The moderators and chairs will be present at the venue to bring the speakers/panel members together for the audience.
The conference organizers will ensure that there is equal gender participation in the audience, and that religious, ethnic minority groups and people from marginalized regions have sufficient representation. At the conclusion of the Conference the audience will vote on selected motions.
The conference organizers will arrange venues across Pakistan in bar councils, press offices and human rights organizations where limited audience will be present to hear the debates through a live video link. The conference organizers will also look at arranging venues in Kabul, Delhi, Colombo and Dhaka. Questions will be taken from the audience present at the venues and voting on resolutions emerging from the conference will be held online as well as through a show of hands at the venues where audience will be present.
The purpose of the AJ Conference – Pathways to Democracy – is to find innovative solutions through debate, discourse and consensus building amongst different stakeholders. The topics that will be discussed will be critical legal issues impacting democratic rights and the rule of law in Pakistan.
AJ Conference will also enhance the institutional capacity and network of AGHS Legal Aid Cell as well as bar councils under the umbrella of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). Bar councils have usually played a prominent role in taking positive stands for upholding the rule of law, due process and fundamental rights. The legal team at AGHS Legal Aid Cell in collaboration with the PBC and SCBA is a credible platform to articulate the interests and aspirations of the legal profession. AGHS has an exemplary track record of serving the public and the profession through advocacy, defending justice and human rights, promoting professional excellence, and respect for the rule of law.
It is expected that there will be over 5000 virtual participants as well as over 500 attendees at the venues across Pakistan and internationally. In collaboration with the PBC and the SCBA, invitations will encourage the participation of judges, politicians, policy makers, journalists, women lawyers and leadership of the District Bar Councils.
There will be greater focus on gender balance and we will invite women judges and lawyers from across Pakistan. Women’s representation will feed into discussions and strategies required to diminish discrimination and patriarchal practises from the legal profession, and to mainstream the role of women in the justice system. A large network of women lawyers selected from District Bar Associations from all over Pakistan will be invited to participate virtually to continue the legal network that was formed in the 2018 and 2019 conferences.
We will form institutional alliances with law universities and colleges so that we have students involved as participants. In both conferences in 2018 and 2019 there were over 300 student volunteers. Previously the Conference Committee received feedback from students that there are very few events such as these for them to engage in and learn from practitioners and international jurists.
Previous Themes of AJ Conference
The previous themes covered by the conference included strengthening the justice system, freedom of conscience, religious belief and expression, rights of the child, freedom of expression and shrinking spaces for dissent, and empowering women in the criminal justice system. The resolutions that emerged from the two conferences along with the proceedings were published and disseminated among a wide audience. Consultations were held throughout the year within the legal community at the bar level and with parliamentarians to implement recommendations through positive legislation, implementation and policy changes.
At the end of the Conferences in 2018 and 2019, recommendations were compiled which were voted on through a show of hands. A publication with details of recommendations as well as a summary of proceedings can be viewed on:
A short documentary video on AJ Conference 2018
DAY 1 Highlights
DAY 2 Highlights
The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC)
AJ Conference 2020 aims to collaborate with the PBC. The PBC is the representative body of lawyers in Pakistan. It has 25 elected members from throughout the country representing each province. The PBC has been set up by statute and it is the supervising body over all other sub-national bar councils.. The councils collectively have more than 150 members and thousands of registered lawyers. The leadership of the PBC will ensure that resolutions from the debate are widely circulated, debated and used for lobbying with judges, policy makers and parliamentarians. This will be achieved through the online participation of the members from the PBC in the debate sessions, which will ensure a better quality of debate within the legal community of Pakistan and a more coherent approach towards strategic legal issues.
The Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBA)
AGHS has always had strong links with the Supreme Court Bar Association as its founder, Asma Jahangir, was President of the SCBA from 2010 to 2012. The firm retains a close relationship with the SCBA and the other major bar associations in Pakistan. The SCBA represents the most senior lawyers in the country. The SCBA taps into the experience and expertise of its members in order to serve the legal community in the administration of justice (including promoting the advancement of women in the legal profession) and helps to advance the rule of law.
Proposed Activities of the conference
Create a sub-committee which includes AGHS Legal Aid Cell, PBC and SCBA members who will organise and make the necessary arrangements for the Conference. This sub-committee will also include journalists who will disseminate information about the Conference in the media.
Voicepk’s social media team will advertise about the Conference and also become partners. A well-planned and robust social media strategy will involve our social media team webcasting highlights from the sessions live on Voicepk’s website and through AGHS’s and Voicepk’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. AGHS has over 800k followers on Twitter, which along with the partners and allies of AGHS will ensure that the conference gets wide exposure.
Voicepk’s social media team will also record messages from speakers and disseminate through social media networks including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Speakers will be encouraged to record a message about the issue that they will be speaking on before the Conference to create awareness. In some debates pre and post debate polls will be taken to assess whether participants change their opinion after the debate.
Long- Term Impact and Effectiveness
The 2018 and 2019 Conferences led to the passing of resolutions that were backed by popular consensus. The resolutions were included in the press and disseminated amongst bar associations, judiciary, the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Human Rights. The success of the previous conferences held in 2018 and 2019 can be proven by the overwhelming response during registration and the attendance of over 3000 people with an almost even gender participation. Both conferences also received wide media coverage form all major television channels, the press as well as social media.
AJ Conference will have media partners. Current affairs anchors will be invited and facilitated to debate issues and moderate sessions. Issues of law and human rights are often overlooked by the media. The Conference will be an opportunity to create awareness and have a sensible discussion about these issues through engaging the media.
The PBC, SCBA and AGHS Legal Aid Cell will in the long term continue to work to improve the functioning and expertise of the legal profession in Pakistan through focusing on specific recommendations on legal and procedural reforms; and also by fostering better links with the international legal community.
AGHS will campaign along with the bar associations throughout the year for the resolutions to be adopted and implemented. The AJ Conference in 2018 was unprecedented in terms of participation of lawyers, members of judiciary, leadership of bar associations, journalists, academics, members of civil society and representatives of other NGOs. We are particularly proud that we were able to ensure almost even gender participation in prior conferences from what is otherwise a male dominated legal profession in Pakistan. It is expected that we will have similar interest in 2020 and the debates will generate discourse and identify solutions with consensus of the legal community.