Irene Khan, Making a Difference in the World

Like most other countries in the world, Bangladesh has produced a fine number of influential and famous people. Amongst these is an individual known for her humanitarian spirit, Irene Khan. Currently the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Bangladeshi Irene Khan is making a difference in the world and the people of her homeland can beam with pride when they think of her achievements.

Irene Zubaida Khan was born in the Bangladesh city of Dhaka on 24 December 1956. During her youth Bangladesh had just received independence and was a struggling, poverty-stricken country, racked with the pains of civil war. Although part of a wealthier family, Irene Khan was terribly aware of the injustices and abuse of human rights going on around her, thus a keen interest to protect people from such violations developed in her. In time, her family had to move to Northern Ireland. After completing school she decided to study law at the fine University of Manchester as well as Harvard Law School where she went on to specialize in public international law and human rights.

In 1977 Irene Khan assisted in the establishment of Concern Universal. Following that, in 1979, she joined the International Commission of Jurists as a dedicated human rights activist. Always eager to do more, Khan went on to become part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the year 1980. She was given the privilege in 1995 of becoming the UNHCR Chief of Mission in India. Then, in 1998, she took the lead at the UNHCR’s Center for Research and Documentation. Always eager to assist others, Irene Khan led an important mission during the 1999 Kosovo crisis. That same year she was assigned the role of Deputy Directory of International Protection.

Khan’s amazing humanitarian career didn’t stay there. In August 2001 she was appointed seventh Secretary General of Amnesty International. She stands out as the first women, first Muslim and first Asian to hold this position. Certainly she has proved herself a real asset. Right from the word “go” Irene Khan has done much to improve the operations of Amnesty International, beginning with the organizations response to crises. She has promoted women’s rights in Pakistan, revealed human rights violations in Australia, assisted victims of ethnic strife in Burundi and addressed the issue of discrimination against the mentally disabled in Bulgaria, plus much more.

Irene Khan has received much deserved recognition for her fine deeds. She was honored with a Ford Foundation Fellowship. In 2002 she was the recipient of the Pilkington “Woman of the Year” Award. Then in 2006 she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. Khan has also received academic awards and she was given an institutional honorary doctorate by the Ghent University in 2007. Indeed, Irene Khan is making a big difference in the world today and Bangladeshis can think of her with pride.