The Elders

Hina Jilani

“Nobody brings about change single-handedly. There are many people who are legendary, who have influenced events in the world, but behind them there is always a collective effort.”

Pioneering lawyer and activist

“I always had this feeling that if you see injustice, you have to speak out against it; otherwise you are not in a position to complain.”

International human rights defender

“Human rights are not embodied and protected by declarations, conventions or pieces of legislation; they are embodied and protected by people. It is people who go out to claim their rights, it is people who realise their freedoms.” 

At the heart of Pakistan’s women’s movement

“We have got to keep challenging the social norms that keep women down; we must name injustice wherever we see it.” 

Hina Jilani biography

Pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner; a leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights.
  • Founded Pakistan’s first all-women law firm; first legal aid centre; and national Human Rights Commission
  • Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan since 1992
  • UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, 2000-2008
  • Awarded the Millennium Peace Prize for Women, 2001
  • President of the World Organisation Against Torture, 2016
“I always had this feeling that if you see injustice, you have to speak out against it; otherwise you are not in a position to complain.”
  • Work with The Elders

    Hina Jilani joined The Elders in July 2013. Her first engagement with The Elders came in December 2014 when she joined The Elders delegation to Myanmar to call on the warring parties to end their fighting and discuss opportunities for building a new and inclusive federal state, including the 2015 election. On this occasion The Elders met with representatives from the government, the military and civil society including ethnic women’s groups. The Elders called on.

    In April 2014, together with her fellow Elders Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, Hina Jilani travelled to Paris to hold a public discussion with young people and activists on climate change at Sciences Po university.

    Hina Jilani travelled to New York in September 2015 with an Elders delegation of Gro Harlem Brundtland, Graça Machel and Ernesto Zedillo to celebrate the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. Hina Jilani participated in a panel event co-hosted with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect on the use of the UN Security Council veto as part of The Elders A UN Fit for purpose initiative.

    In May 2016 Hina Jilani together with Gro Harlem Brundtland, Graca Machel and Mary Robinson launched The Elders’ initiative on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. This initiative calls for universal access to health care as a way of saving lives, tackling poverty, empowering women and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Hina Jilani also participated in the Elders’ delegation to the UN General Assembly in September 2016, taking part in UN roundtables on refugees and migration, and meeting refugees who had been resettled in the United States by the International Rescue Committee.

    In February 2017 she participated at the Munich Security Conference with fellow Elders Lakhdar Brahimi, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo.

  • Pioneering lawyer and activist

    A renowned lawyer and civil society activist, Hina Jilani has dedicated her life to fighting for human rights and democracy in Pakistan and around the world.

    Her father, a politician, was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s military dictatorship and spent long spells in prison. “We were growing up in an environment in which we saw injustices happen and our home taught us never to turn away when we saw it,” she says. This early exposure to injustice sparked a lifelong commitment to agitating for social change, whether out on the streets or inside the courtroom.

    After qualifying as a lawyer, Hina Jilani established Pakistan’s first all-women law firm in 1980, followed by Pakistan’s first legal aid centre in 1986. She has conducted many landmark cases setting new standards for human rights in Pakistan, with a particular focus on the rights of the most vulnerable sections of society, such as women, minorities, children, and prisoners – including political prisoners. She was appointed Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1992.

  • At the heart of Pakistan’s women’s movement

    In 1980 Hina Jilani founded the Women’s Action Forum, a pressure group set up to campaign for women’s rights and challenge Pakistan’s discriminatory laws. Although the group’s members have suffered harassment, beatings and arrests as a result of their activism, they have been at the heart of the democracy movement in Pakistan.

    Ms Jilani was also among the founders of Dastak, a shelter providing free legal counsel and support to victims of gender-based violence. A vital refuge for women fleeing abusive marriages, child marriages and ‘honour killings’, the organisation has worked to raise awareness on human rights and the protection of women since its establishment in 1990.

    Hina Jilani’s work in Pakistan has made her a target of hostile propaganda, arrests and abuse. Yet despite repeated threats and intimidation, she continues to live in Lahore, working tirelessly to mobilise civil society and promote human rights.

  • International human rights defender

    Hina Jilani was one of the founders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Established in 1986, the Commission has branches throughout the country and is now the most important national body for the monitoring of rights violations.

    In 2000 she became the first Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, and for the next eight years worked to empower and protect rights defenders worldwide. During her tenure she identified common themes in the treatment of human rights defenders, including the culture of impunity; intimidation and lack of security; restrictions on freedom of assembly, expression, and association; and death threats against defenders who seek justice for past crimes.

    Ms Jilani also served as:

    • Member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, appointed by the United Nations Security Council, 2004
    • Member of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism appointed by the International Commission of Jurists, 2006-2008
    • Member of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, April 2009

    In July 2013 she was elected to join the International Commission of Jurists. She has received a number of honours and awards, including the 2001 Millennium Peace Prize for Women, in recognition of her life-long contribution to peace-building and human rights.

View all articles by Hina Jilani

Nelson Mandela

(1918-2013) Founder

Former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Laureate; a leader who dedicated his life to the anti-apartheid struggle, democracy and equality; founder of The Elders.

Martti Ahtisaari

Former President of Finland; Nobel Peace Laureate and expert in international peace mediation, diplomacy and post-conflict state building.

Kofi Annan


Former UN Secretary-General, Nobel Peace Laureate and Chair of The Elders (2013-2018); put development, human rights, the rule of law, good governance and peace at the top of the United Nations agenda.

Ban Ki-moon

Deputy Chair of The Elders

Former UN Secretary-General, former South-Korean Foreign Minister and diplomat; he sought to give voice to the world’s poorest and vulnerable people by putting Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and gender equality at the top of the UN agenda.

Ela Bhatt

Elder Emeritus

The ‘gentle revolutionary’; a pioneer in women’s empowerment and grassroots development, founder of the more than 1 million-strong Self-Employed Women’s Association in India.

Lakhdar Brahimi

Former Algerian freedom fighter, Foreign Minister, conflict mediator and UN diplomat; an expert in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

Gro Harlem Brundtland

First woman Prime Minister of Norway; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right; put sustainable development on the international agenda.

Fernando H Cardoso

Elder Emeritus

Former President of Brazil; implemented major land reform programme, reduced poverty and significantly improved health and education; an acclaimed sociologist and global advocate for drug policy reform.

Jimmy Carter

Elder Emeritus

Former President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate and veteran peace negotiator; dedicated to advancing peace, democracy and health worldwide.

Hina Jilani

Pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner; a leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights.

Ricardo Lagos

Former President of Chile; tenacious fighter for democracy and human rights; implemented health reform; and reduced economic inequality while diversifying Chile’s external trade in the era of globalisation.

Graça Machel

Deputy Chair of The Elders

International advocate for women’s and children's rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.

Mary Robinson

Chair of The Elders

First woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a passionate, forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace-building and human dignity.

Desmond Tutu

Elder Emeritus

Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Laureate and Honorary Elder; a veteran anti-apartheid activist and peace campaigner widely regarded as ‘South Africa’s moral conscience’.

Ernesto Zedillo

Former President of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms; economist and advocate of multilateralism, inclusive globalisation, nuclear non-proliferation and drug policy reform.

The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

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