Vol. 4 Num 55 Mon. July 21, 2003  

In memorium
Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed

When Barrister Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed passed away on 12 July, messages of condolence and tributes poured in from legions of people who had known him, admired him, respected him and loved him.

His passing away from this mortal world sadly ended a luminous legal career. He was a constitutional lawyer with a sharp mind and provided significant, non-partisan leadership and influence in the area of law. If one listened to his arguments before the Court, one quickly became aware that he/she was in the presence of a remarkable lawyer. Much of his 45 year career, he carried out in a dedicated and courteous fashion, whether as an Attorney General or as a great constitutional lawyer or an Adviser ( Minister) to the Care -Taker governments. He politely declined to be a judge of the Supreme Court and led a marvelous career with a great reputation.

When Barrister Ishtiaq would walk into a room, heads would turn. He was tall, handsome and had a great personality. As a Barrister, he set a fine example of legal practice with his mild manners, good articulation, perfect demeanour and courtesy to the Court.As a person he was man of decency and was always tolerant of different points of view. He would proffer his opinion but he never tried to force things on people. He was gentle in his approach to people but quite firm in his views. He had style, wit and intelligence to match his personality. His personal character was marked by courage and generosity.

Over the years I had the privilege of knowing him and his wife Dr. Sufia Ahmed. I first met with Ishtiaq Bhai in 1949 in Dhaka College, then in 1953 at the Dhaka University and in 1958 in London. To us, he was an inspiring figure. As a student leader he was a captivating orator and had a singular style. Students were drawn to him by the warmth he exuded, that he gave so unstintingly to all who came within his orbit. He told us many witty stories in the Bar Library during early 60s when I first joined the Dhaka High Court Bar.

Barrister Istiaq had firm commitments to democratic institutions and human rights. He entered into a wide range of debate on public issues and often published feature articles in the newspaper and appeared on the TV. His contribution to this area is immense. As an Adviser to the Care-Taker Governments in 1991 and again in 2001, he relentlessly attempted to reform archaic laws in the country. Due to his leadership the Company Law in the country was updated. He wanted to separate judiciary from executive and it was believed he almost completed the mechanism for it in 2001. He fought for independence of judiciary and for the position of an Ombudsman in the country as provided in the 1972 Constitution of the country. He believed justice for all, rich and poor.

He was the Chairperson of the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs. Under his leadership the activities of the Institute expanded and covered many important areas of law and foreign affairs. He was no push over when asked to do something which did not accord with the charter of the Institute.

He had a great love for gardening and his residence in Gulshan was a testimony to his passion. He made his friends feel special with his hospitality and his wife Dr. Sufia Ahmed Ahmed was equally hospitable and warm to all of us at their home. When I last met with him he disclosed that he was completing two booksone on judiciary and the other on political affairs. I am confident that these two books will provide a great insight to the topics he had selected.

Barrister Ishtiaq was a star in his profession, was charming as a person and was a great champion of democracy and human rights. Let me say how much people like myself benefited from having the opportunity of knowing him. I do not want only to mourn. I want to say that his life was a life that any one of us would have been proud to have lived like him.

He is survived by his wife National Professor Dr. Sufia Ahmed, son Justice (Dr) Refaat Ahmed and daughter physician Dr. Raina Ahmed.

We will all miss him terribly. We pray for the salvation for his great soul and pray that his bereaved members of his family may have the fortitude to bear this irreparable personal loss.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.