South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, is deeply concerned of the plight of Indian and Pakistani fishermen who are arrested for trespassing the territorial waters, subjected to prolonged detention and in some cases lead to death on foreign soil.
SAHR understands that the livelihoods of Indian and Pakistani fishermen are in grave danger due to the dearth of fish caused by pollution and excessive fishing which results in them trespassing into territorial waters of neighboring countries. In Pakistan and India, there are long bureacractic delays during detention and some fishermen are not released even after the prison sentence is completed due to delays in the identification process of the relevant High Commission. In cases of death, the governments delay handing over the mortals remains of the country of his origin.
In this month, three fishermen – two Pakistanis and an Indian died in India and Pakistan respectively. Many fisher folk are unfortunately forced into this reality and it is imperative that governments respect the right to life and humane treatment of persons under arrest as stipulated in their constitutions.
SAHR calls on both governments to immediately and effectively revive the Indo-Pak Joint Judicial Committee, which was formed to investigate the situation of civilians imprisoned in the jails of the other nation and to obtain and facilitate their release, especially fishermen imprisoned for straying across territorial waters. SAHR notes that this committee has last met in October 2013 in India and has not held a meeting since then. Further Pakistan needs to urgently nominate four retired judges to this committee which has also caused delays to the functioning of this committee.
At a time when mutual trust between the two countries are at a lower ebb, SAHR urges the two governments to allow a team of medical experts to visit jails in the other country in order to ensure the health conditions of their imprisoned compatriots.
SAHR firmly believes that a sustainable bilateral solution to this ongoing problem would be beneficial to both countries. We further call on the governments of India and Pakistan to create an environment for efficient coordination between bureaucratic structures in order to minimise delays in detention and to work with all stakeholders, including the fisher folk and activists, to adopt a no arrest policy for fisher folk trespassing the territorial waters.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,