Our Voices

Defender Spotlight: Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir – Professional Development on Positive/Negative Rights

In this installment of our UDHR series, engage in professional development for human rights educators by learning more about positive and negative rights. Essentially, positive rights outline what a government or institution should do, while negative rights focus on what they should not do. Understanding this distinction can help determine the best way to take action on a particular human rights issue. In this article, you will learn about two human rights defenders: Hina Jilani, who is addressing positive rights, and Asma Jahangir, who defended negative rights. Use these two case studies to help your students understand more about positive and negative rights.

Positive rights entail entitlements to certain goods, services, or actions that others are obligated to provide, such as the right to healthcare or education. These rights impose a duty on institutions or individuals to actively fulfill these entitlements. On the other hand, negative rights focus on freedom from interference or coercion by others, guaranteeing protections such as freedom of speech or freedom from torture.


Hina Jilani’s pivotal role as the co-founder of Pakistan’s first all-women law firm and legal aid center places her squarely at the forefront of the fight for positive rights, particularly for women and minorities. Through her relentless advocacy, she has confronted discriminatory laws and practices that diminish women’s status and contribute to their marginalization. Jilani’s efforts have focused on securing fair access to employment, healthcare, and education for women, ensuring that they are not deprived of their basic entitlements. Her movement has empowered women to speak out against injustice and fight for their rights, leading to a significant reduction in gender-based violence and discrimination. By amplifying the voices of marginalized communities, Jilani has catalyzed a broader conversation about gender equality and social justice in Pakistan.

Access to Justice

Hina Jilani’s commitment to positive rights extends beyond her advocacy for women and minorities to ensuring access to the judicial system for all disadvantaged segments of society, regardless of their class or identity. As the UN Special Representative of Human Rights Defenders, Jilani utilized her platform to advocate for legal mechanisms that uphold the rights and dignity of every individual. Her efforts have been instrumental in bridging the gap between marginalized communities and the legal system, ensuring that their voices are heard and their grievances addressed.

Global Refugee Crisis

Jilani’s concerns have expanded to addressing the global refugee crisis, advocating for positive rights such as the right to asylum and protection from persecution. As a co-chair of the World Refugee Council, she has played a pivotal role in developing innovative initiatives and regulations that support refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Jilani’s advocacy emphasizes the importance of international collaboration and community building to tackle the root causes of displacement and ensure the rights and dignity of refugees are upheld by providing them with the support they need to rebuild their lives with dignity and security.


As a lawyer and activist, Asma Jahangir fearlessly advocated for the fundamental rights of due process and the rule of law by challenging oppressive laws and practices that infringed upon the human rights of citizens such as arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and summary executions. By shining a spotlight on these injustices and demanding accountability, Jahangir helped create a more just and equitable society where the rights of all individuals are respected and protected.

Standing Up for Freedom of Expression

As a passionate advocate for freedom of expression, Asma Jahangir understood its paramount significance in fostering democracy. She championed the freedom of media and spoke out against government attempts to silence opposition voices. Her unwavering stance empowered journalists and activists to exercise their negative right to freedom of speech and carry out their crucial work without fear of reprisal.

Protecting Minority Rights

Asma Jahangir defended the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, challenging oppressive laws and practices targeting these marginalized groups. She was a vocal critic of blasphemy laws that were often misused to persecute religious minorities, and she advocated for the rights of women and children facing violence and exploitation. Jahangir’s activism extended beyond the courtroom as she engaged in grassroots efforts to amplify the voices of the deprived and oppressed. Through her legal battles and advocacy work, Jahangir became a symbol of hope and resilience for those struggling against discrimination and persecution. Her legacy continues to inspire activists worldwide to fight for the rights and dignity of all individuals, especially the most vulnerable in society.