04/14/2012, 00.00
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Cecil Chaudhry, Catholic human rights activist, dies

by Jibran Khan
He succumbs after a long battle with cancer. His funeral is scheduled for tomorrow in Lahore's Sacred Heart Cathedral. The much-decorated Air Force pilot worked in education for 20 years on behalf of poor and disabled children. He was a close associate of the Shahbaz Bhatti.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Pakistani Air Force ace and human rights activist Cecil Chaudhry has died. A Catholic, he was involved in education for poor and disabled children. A great friend and associate of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minority Affairs minister who was killed on 2 March 2011, the former military pilot passed away yesterday in Lahore after a long battle with cancer. His funeral will be held tomorrow in Lahore's Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Rawalpindi, today said that Catholic schools would close across the diocese for ten days. Mgr Sebastian Shaw, bishop of Lahore, announced a five-day mourning period for Catholic schools in his diocese. Various human rights and civil society organisations expressed their condolences for the death of the "national hero".

Born on 27 August 1941 in a Roman Catholic family in Dalwal (Punjab), he studied at St Anthony's High School in Lahore. He completed his education at the Forman Christian College in the same city.

In 1958, he joined the Pakistan Air Force Academy. During his military career, he took part in dangerous missions during the 1971 Indian-Pakistan War and won two medals of valour.

He left the Air Force in 1986 with the rank of colonel and became a leading figure in the process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan. At the same time, he began to work on human rights and youth education.

Principal at the Saint Mary's Academy of Lalazar (Rawalpindi) and member of the Punjab Education Foundation, he became the executive secretary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), an organisation founded by Shahbaz Bhatti in 1985.

Over the years, he worked with the slain minister, dedicating himself to school reforms for disabled children.

Chaudhry was also an active supporter of the National Commission for Justice and Peace. After 14 years, his campaign led to the restoration of Pakistan's joint electorate system in 2002.

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