Ansar Burney (Urdu: انصار برنی; 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
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.
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".
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 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.
Ansar Burney has been involved in the release of thousands of prisoners from prisons across the world. The following are a fraction of the most prominent cases he had been involved in during his initial years as the head of the Prisoners Aid Society.
1985 - Syed Muzaffar Ali Shah
Syed Muzaffar Ali Shah was arrested under the Lunacy Act 37 years earlier when he had visited a police station to lodge a burglary report. He was kept in detention for 37 years without ever being charged or presented before a court. He was finally released after efforts of the Prisoners Aid Society.
1987 - Mehar Din
Arrested by police at the age of 20 on charges of murder because he had the same name as the person they were looking for, Meher Din spent the next four years behind bars until he was acquitted. Sadly however, rather than being released, he was re-arrested on another murder charge and spent the next 17 years behind bars without ever being produced in front of a court. He was eventually transferred to the mental asylum within the prison walls and had no contact with his family for 21 years. He was released after he was discovered by Ansar Burney of the Prisoners Aid Society.
1987 – Mukhtar
Mukhtar, was arrested in an attempt to murder case in 1952 in Kohat and was sentenced to seven years hard labour. After a year and a half in the D. I. Khan Jail, he was sent to the Peshawar Jail, where he remained for the next 18 years without any charge or crime. Finally, when someone noticed his continued incarceration, he was released in 1970 but was arrested in Karachi again where he remained till 1987 until he was discovered by Ansar Burney who took his matter to the Sindh High Court and he was finally released. Mukhtar had spent a total of 35 years in jail.
1988 - Mohammed Akhtar
A lady prisoner was sent to prison in 1946 where she was raped and gave birth to Mohammed Akhter in 1948. The mother then died when Akhter was 5 years old. With no one to claim him as their own, Akhter spent 40 years of his life within the same prison, never leaving its premises; until he was spotted by Ansar Burney during a visit to the prison and released.
1991 – name unknown
A girl, whose name was never known, was arrested in 1936 at the age of 15 for upsetting the British Viceroy at the time. Without any charge or ever being presented before a court, she remained in prison for the next 55 years, becoming deaf and dumb, and released at the age of 70 only after she was discovered by Ansar Burney of the Prisoners Aid Society who took up her matter with Sindh Governor, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, who ordered her immediate release.
1992 - Ghulam Fatima
A witness to the murder of her husband during the Muslim-Hindu riots of 1947, Ghulam Fatima lost her mental balance and was arrested by the police for loitering and sent to Lahore Mental Prison where she remained for the next 45 years. She was discovered by Ansar Burney during a trip to the asylum and released.
Lobbying against death penalty in Pakistan
For many years, as a human rights lawyer and expert on the Pakistani legal system and well aware of its flaws, Burney has campaigned to both the Pakistani Supreme Court and the various Presidents of Pakistan to commute the death sentence of all condemned prisoners in Pakistan into life imprisonment.
Per investigations by Burney and his organisation, many condemned to death in Pakistan are in fact either innocent – victims of false testimonies or circumstances; or now mentally and physically disabled due to their decades long confinement in harsh and inhumane conditions within Pakistani prisons.
As a direct result of Burney’s petitions, the current President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari has instructed the various branches of the Pakistani government to provide advice on the possibility of converting all death sentences in Pakistan into life imprisonment and is expected to make a decision to the issue soon.
Anti human trafficking, false imprisonment and slavery
Ansar Burney is a prominent internationally recognised campaigner against human trafficking and slavery; and has been working against such practices in Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa for two decades now. During this time, with assistance from the various governments and authorities, Ansar Burney through his organisation the Ansar Burney Trust has secured the release of thousands of persons from false imprisonment and slavery across the world; these have included young girls sold in the sex trade and young children used for modern day slavery. In 2005, the Ansar Burney Trust was involved in the release and repatriation of 13,967 victims from the Middle East alone.
The following are some of the most prominent cases Ansar Burney has been involved in:
1990 to date - child camel jockeys
Ansar Burney is particularly widely accredited as the man whose efforts led to the end of child slavery in the shape of child camel jockeys in the Middle East; as a direct of which, thousands of children were freed from bonded labour and returned to their homes in South Asia and Africa.
Beginning his campaign against child trafficking two decades earlier, Burney had been involved in raising awareness of the issue of child camel jockeys for many years and had been involved in the rescue and repatriation of many children from the Gulf region. During 2003-04 in the UAE alone, as per reports by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the US State Department, Burney had managed to rescue and repatriate over 400 children.
By 2005, the use of child camel jockeys was banned in the UAE and in other neighbouring Gulf nations the year after and in recognition the Ansar Burney Trust was declared an international best practice by the US State Department in its 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report. The report stated:
‘A noted Pakistani human rights activist, Ansar Burney has worked relentlessly to bring to light the plight of thousands of South Asian and African children trafficked to Arab countries in the Persian Gulf for exploitation as camel jockeys. These abused children, some as young as two years of age, are purposely malnourished (to keep them lightweight) and denied education. As a result of Mr. Burney's efforts, the Government of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) established its first-ever shelter for rescued child camel jockeys, and rescued 68 such children and repatriated 43 through the shelter. Mr. Burney oversees this shelter. He is quick to point out, however, that much more needs to be done to rescue, rehabilitate, and repatriate thousands of trafficked children throughout the Gulf region.’
Burney continues on his mission to end any such existing practices across the Middle East. A documentary on his work rescuing child camel jockeys aired on the American channel HBO won both an Emmy and Alfred DuPont award.
2002 – framing and murder of 7 immigrations in Macedonia
Six Pakistani and an Indian immigrant attempting to cross illegally into Europe were arrested by Macedonian authorities in March 2002. A plan was hatched and the men were taken near to the US Embassy in Macedonia, where they were murdered and framed as terrorists in an attempt to prove Macedonia’s credentials as a frontline US ally in the war on terror. It was stated by the Macedonian authorities at the time that the men had travelled from Pakistan in an attempt to attack the US Embassy in Macedonia and the plan had been foiled by actions of the Macedonian police. The pre-planned incident and framing was masterminded by the then Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. Details of this heinous incident came to light upon Ansar Burney’s intervention in the matter, who visited Macedonia to seek arrest of Boskovski (who fled the country), compensation for the families and to return the bodies of the victims to their homes.
2003 - 10 Pakistani Taekwondo players falsely accused of terrorism
Ten Pakistani taekwondo players, who were representing their country in games being held in Latvia, were arrested in 2003 on charges of Terrorism. The families of the players contacted Ansar Burney who in turn contacted the Latvian authorities to seek the men’s release. After an investigation, it was revealed that the players’ only crime was that they had booked a connecting flight to Pakistan via Russia; a flight on which an Israeli Basketball team was also travelling. The men were arrested without any evidence, purely due to the fact that they were Pakistani and Muslim. Burney ensured the players’ release and repatriation to Pakistan.  
2005 – 60 Pakistanis sold into slavery in Sudan
In March 2005, 60 Pakistanis arrived legally in Khartoum, Sudan in search of a better future and to work a job they were promised by an agency in an oil company. However, to their shock and dismay, they found themselves to have been sold into slavery at a labour camp in Bageer (near Khartoum). Surrounded by armed guards and with no escape, the men spent 5 months in the private prison, working as slave labourers and feeding mostly on boiled rice and dirty water.
When they finally managed to contact the Pakistani Embassy in Sudan they were given full support – until it was revealed that the company that arranged their travel and sold them into slavery was actually owned by a senior minister in Pakistan. The men were abandoned and left to suffer even longer. The Ansar Burney Trust was informed through volunteers and launched a campaign for the return of the men; who were finally returned a few months later.
2011 – release of 22 hostages from Somali pirates
MV Suez, a Panamanian flag cargo vessel with 22 crew members was hijacked by Somali pirates on 2 August 2010. The crew consisted of 11 Egyptians, 6 Indians, 4 Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan. The pirates demanded a ransom of $20 million from the ship’s owner; however they could only manage $1 million. In desperation, the pirates allowed the crew members to contact their homes. Unable to raise the large sum of money to pay the ransom, the families contacted Ansar Burney, whom along with Governor of Sindh Dr. Israt Ibab launched a national campaign to raise the funds. Burney travelled to the UAE, Egypt, Somalia and India in a bid to secure the release of the crew members and finally succeeded and the vessel was released on 13 June 2011. An operation was then launched by the Pakistan Navy entitled Operation Umeed-e-Nuh to escort the ship and its sailors to Karachi, Pakistan.
2012 - Offer to bring back the body of Ajmal Kasab
In November 2012, after the Government of India stated that Pakistan had refused to claim the body of slain Lashkar-e-Taiba Terrorist Ajmal Kasab, Burney offered to bring back the body to Pakistan citing humanitarian causes..
On Aug 22, 2011, Ansar Buney announced that following the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan, he would initiate an anti-corruption movement in Pakistan based on the popular movement of Anna Hazare in India.
While working for release of Indian prisoner in Pakitan Sarabjit Singh's sister has alleged that Ansar Burney had asked her for being paid 250 million rupees for bringing Sarabjit Singh back to India.
Awards and recognition
Due to his prominent work, Ansar Burney is widely recognised as the first man to introduce the concept of human rights in Pakistan.
In 1991, due to his extraordinary work and achievements in the field of human rights at a young age, particularly his efforts for prison reforms and release of innocent prisoners, he was awarded the Outstanding Young Person of the World Award by the Junior Chamber International (JCI).
Due to his outstanding achievements in the field of human and civil rights, Ansar Burney was the first man to receive the Pakistani National Civil Award Sitara-i-Imtiaz on 23 March 2002. This was the first occasion in the history of Pakistan that such an award was awarded in the field of human rights.
In recognition of his two decade long international campaign against human trafficking and to end child slavery in the Middle East in the form of child camel jockeys, Ansar Burney was declared an 'Anti-Human Trafficking Hero' by the then US Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and in the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department.
In 2008, due to his outstanding humanitarian work and efforts to improve people to people relations between Pakistan and India, Burney was awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial (International) Award by the Harmony Foundation in the field of Social Justice.
In 2011, due to his untiring efforts for the release of MV Suez and its crew from Somali Pirates and his great achievements in the field of human rights for the last three decades, Burney was awarded the prestigious MKRF award by the Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Foundation.
In 2012, in recognition of his humanitarian work in Pakistan and abroad, Burney was awarded the ‘Diamond’ award by the UK’s Secretary of State Rt. Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
Ten years after receiving the civil award Sitar-i-Imtiaz, on 14 August 2012 the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari announced the civil award Hilal-i-Imtiaz for Ansar Burney. He will receive this honour on 23 March 2013 at the Presidency in Islamabad.
Additionally, Ansar Burney has been the recipient of over 250 national and international awards over the last three decades.
Syed Ansar Ahmed Burney is the son of Syed Mukhtar Ahmed Burney. He has two sons, a daughter and a grandchild. He is a resident of Karachi, however spends most of his time travelling in Pakistan and worldwide in relation to his humanitarian work.