Ansar Burney

Ansar Burney born 14 August 1956) is a leading Pakistani human rights and civil rights activist. He is a graduate of Masters and Law from Karachi University and honorary recipient of a PhD. in Philosophy. He is widely accredited as being the first man to introduce the concept of human rights in Pakistan nearly 30 years ago.[1]

Early life

Ansar Burney was a prominent student leader with the People’s Student Federation in his youth during the 1970s and was known to raise his voice for justice, human dignity and civil rights. His efforts and movement landed him in trouble with the military government of the time and in 1977, Ansar Burney, then aged 20, was arrested on charges of delivering speeches against martial law and in favour of democracy; and was sentenced to eight months rigorous imprisonment by the Martial Law Court.Upon release in 1978, the Martial Law Authorities once again arrested Ansar Burney and sentenced him to prison for 2 further months of detention and in 1979, Burney was again arrested for a third time and detained for a month.
During the periods of his detention in different prisons in Pakistan, Ansar Burney witnessed firsthand the miserable conditions of prisons and met countless prisoners whom were imprisoned without crime or charge; some in detention for over 40 years without ever appearing in court. It was then upon his release and completion of his law degree that Ansar Burney set up the ‘Prisoners Aid Society’ and the ‘Bureau of Missing and Kidnapped Children’ in Karachi (Pakistan in 1980; and eventually formed the 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 non-profitable organisation which initially worked for the welfare of prisoners, reforms in prisons and mental asylums and to trace missing and kidnapped children; however then widened its scope to cover all areas of human rights and worked against human trafficking.

Positions held

Chairman: Ansar Burney Trust International

Established in 1980, initially as the ‘Prisoners Aid Society’ and the ‘Bureau of Missing and Kidnapped Children’ by Ansar Burney, Advocate in the Pakistani port city of Karachi; the Ansar Burney Trust International (as it is known now) 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 Ansar Burney Trust headed by Mr. Ansar Burney is a network of human rights organisations and volunteers working for the deliverance of justice, better treatment of human beings and for the rights and freedoms of civil liberties. It works to raise awareness, provide free legal advice and services and humanitarian assistance where needed. Since its inception in 1980, it has been involved in bringing reforms in Police Stations, Prisons and Mental Institutions; and worked for the aid, advice, release, rehabilitation and welfare of the illegally and unlawfully detained prisoners and mental patients.
It also works for the rehabilitation and welfare of the families of these unfortunate human beings purely on humanitarian grounds in the greater interest of justice and humanity without any affiliation or consideration for any political party, group or activities. Since its inception in 1980, the Ansar Burney Trust has shown a marked and steady progress in achieving the vowed objectives and has started a number of centers for various projects in Pakistan and abroad. The Trust also publishes newsletters and human rights reports with the purpose of spreading awareness of issues and to try and get more and more people involved.

Federal Minister for Human Rights (Pakistan)

On 16 November 2007, Ansar Burney was sworn in as Pakistan’s caretaker Federal Minister for Human Rights. He was the first man to head the newly established Human Rights ministry of Pakistan and was placed in charge of establishing the ministry, creation of a national commission on human rights and oversight of general elections in Pakistan. During his term as a Federal Minister, Ansar Burney visited 25 prisons and mental asylums throughout Pakistan, resulting in the release of several hundred innocent persons including children as young as 7. He also strived for further prison reforms and reforms to 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”.[2]

Humanitarian activities

Prison reforms and prisoner rights

As Chairman of the Ansar Burney Trust International, Ansar Burney has been working for the cause of justice for over three decades and in this time 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 to rot their entire lives away even though they are perfectly sane.
Having been locked away in prison himself, Ansar Burney witnessed the miserable conditions in which prisoners were living and set about immediately to help them. He began by visiting the many prisons and mental institutions in Pakistan to find persons confined on false charges, locked away without charge or persons who had been framed. He also began to raise his voice 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 representatives in prisons and mental institutions, Ansar Burney Trust monitors that no prisoner or patient is abused. They have successfully lobbied for better living conditions and food, separate prisons for men and women, education and training for prisoners, put a stop of tying of mental patients and children in chains and have successfully managed to remove place of birth as prison for children born in prisons. Entertainment and a better atmosphere are created at various sites around the country when Ansar Burney 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 before have given birth in confinement with only each other to help are now under the supervision of women nurses – after Ansar Burney presented this matter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Staff of the Ansar Burney Trust visited and met female prisoners and patients to investigate charges of sexual abuse – leading to a reduction of rapes in prisons. They successfully lobbied to ban female prisoners being dealt with by male staff. Non Muslim prisoners unable to perform their religious duties are now provided what they need in order to perform their religious commitments. In the month of Ramadan, non-Muslim prisoners are now arranged food for by Ansar Burney Trust so they were not forced to fast. The Ansar Burney Trust has appointed 84 people in various jails and mental asylums to take care of mental patients and prisoners.
One of their achievements over the years has been the collection of data they have gathered on Pakistani prisoners confined in different Jails around the world due to various misunderstandings. 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 get release of a number of foreign nationals from Pakistani Jails and sent them to their respective home countries on Trust’s expenses.[3]