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Bangladeshi Muslim woman to head Amnesty

Dakar: When 44-year-old Bangladeshi Irene Zubaida Khan took over as secretary general of Amnesty International on 18 August, she became the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to head the human rights watchdog.

Khan formally replaced Senegal's Pierre Sane as head of the London-based organization on 17 Aug. after a 21-year career with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Born on December 24, 1956 in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, she is an expert in public law, international law and human rights law after studies at the University of Manchester, England and at Harvard Law School in the United States.

She began her career as a legal assistant with the International Commission of Lawyers in Geneva, before joining the United Nations High Commissioner in 1980 as a counsellor for the protection of refugees.

During postings in Southeast Asia, Pakistan, Britain and the Republic of Ireland, Khan is said to have always been particularly motivated by her work in the field. In 1995 the United Nations High Commissioner appointed her chief of mission of their Indian bureau, where she was responsible for the protection of 200,000 refugees.

Three years later, she was named head of information and research at the agency, before becoming deputy director of the international protection service in 1999. Khan becomes the seventh secretary general of Amnesty International in its 40-year history.

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