South Asians for Human Rights’ Communiqué to the SAARC Secretary General

A 13 member delegation from SAHR representing countries of South Asia presented the below communique to the SAARC Secretary General H.E. Arjun Thapa on 26 February 2016.

Honourable Sir,

We have the honour to address you as a membership based regional network committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the South Asian countries.

The strength and legitimacy of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) comes from its democratic structure and broad-based membership consisting of eminent persons and recognised human rights defenders in the region. The objectives of SAHR are based on the Neemrana Declaration which was developed by a group of eminent personalities and regional human rights defenders including late Mr. I.K. Gujral, former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Kamal Hossain from Bangladesh, Dr. Devendra Raj Panday from Nepal, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka and Mrs. Asma Jahangir from Pakistan.

Currently, SAHR is working on six programme areas based on its objective to protect and promote human rights in the South Asian region. These include: addressing grave human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances; popularising and implementation of core democratic values in South Asian Parliaments; engagement with SAARC and collaboration with civil society networks; promotion, protection and enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights; border issues; and women, peace and security.

We would like to highlight the following:

  • Engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is one area which SAHR is very much keen to be involved. Though SAARC has been an active platform of cooperation for many common themes in the region, human rights has not so far received adequate attention for various reasons. SAHR has engaged with SAARC in the past, particularly in relation to the Draft SAARC Charter for Democracy, which was placed at the Inter-Governmental meeting held in Dhaka in September 2010.
      • SAHR believes that SAARC is an ideal organization to address the region’s common human rights issues. Consequently, SAHR aims to influence South Asian governments to adopt the subject of human rights as part of the overall SAARC area for cooperation and include it in the agenda at SAARC conferences.

      • We intend to promote and establish close relations between SAARC and the civil society organisations taking its cue from the current set up of ASEAN’s inclusion of civil society organisations in its processes of regional cooperation at the highest level.  At the same time we strongly believe that SAHR’s  engagement with SAARC would continue to increased cooperation between wide ranging civil society groups and SAARC in addressing  numerous common civil and political, social, economic and cultural and environmental rights issues in the region:  Militarisation and constraints on democratic values in governance,  gender justice, displacement of civilians, religious fundamentalism, racism and issues regarding rights of the minorities, economic, social and cultural issues (on migration, land rights and right to housing, food security and right to food, labour rights, right to education and health care and Integrated river basin management) issues on development and debt as well as climate change and issues on environmental rights.

      • Given the gravity and the complexity of the challenges faced by South Asia, national and purely domestic institutions single handedly are unable to effectively guarantee the human rights enshrined in national constitutions, domestic legislations and international law. Under these circumstances additional mechanisms are not only desirable but necessary for effective responses. SAHR, as part of the Regional Initiative for a South Asian Human Rights Mechanism (RI SAHRM), joins the collective call for the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism for the protection and promotion of human rights.

    • We urgently call upon South Asian governments to use the upcoming SAARC Summit in 2016 as an opportunity to progress towards this initiative.

We propose the following recommendations to you:

    1. Facilitate regular round table dialogues with civil society in the South Asian region.
    2. Provide provisions for consultative participation of civil society in the official SAARC meeting similar to the ASEAN Framework.
    3. Take immediate steps to ensure protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in South Asia based on the UN Declaration on HRDs by the inclusion of this topic in the forth coming Foreign Ministerial preparatory consultation for the upcoming SAARC Summit 2016.

On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights.

Hina Jilani

Nimalka Fernando

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