Citizens’ Voices Declaration, Kathmandu, 2016

We, the members of civil society organisations , social movements, labour unions, and women’s groups from across South Asia, have gathered here in Kathmandu, Nepal from 25 -26 February 2016 at the Regional Consultation of Citizens’ Voices, as part of the process of regional civil society empowerment, to reiterate the strengthened vision for peoples voices in South Asia.

We emphasise the peoples’ commitment to creating a tolerant, democratic, equal, peaceful, inclusive and just South Asia, free from all forms of discrimination and marginalisation.

We recognise that while the State has the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, this is not possible without the active engagement of the people.

We recognize the rich diversity of cultures, languages, religions and a multiplicity of identities that link us by shared histories, geographies and cultural practices. We must collectively stand against all structures of oppression, discrimination and violence facing the people of the region.

We uphold the equal sovereignty and independence of all countries in the region and call upon them to work for the regional peace. We endorse discourses on democratic inclusivity and participatory political processes which respect national and local priorities; take into consideration the very real inequalities between the different states in the region; and inequalities within the states in various forms.

We support the people’s movements for democracy and peace against authoritarianism that are ongoing in the countries in the region. We salute the families of the disappeared persons and the victims and survivors of conflict and numerous people who are constantly engaged in such struggles where for justice with unwavering determination despite the manifold risks to their personal security and the safety of their loved ones.

We are concerned with the use of religion as a tool for discrimination and persecution against women and minority communities; and sometimes even in secular States, where while the constitution guarantees equality irrespective of caste, class, ethnicity, religion or gender, attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship are committed with impunity.

Following discussions at the consultation we affirm our commitment to achieving the following goals and aspirations:

  • A South Asia identifying and recognizing the diversities and common histories of the region. We reject racism, ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, religious extremism and hatred based on religion, culture, gender, caste, language and sexual orientation; and will work towards ensuring that hostility between countries is not propagated for narrow sectarian gains.
  • Free movement of peoples in the region, encouraging and facilitating people- to- people contact and communication in the region; or in other words a visa-free South Asia.
  • Peaceful and just resolution of all conflicts in the region, including border conflicts and resettlement of displaced people through political negotiations entailing democratic inclusivity and revoking national security laws that deprive the rights of their peoples. There must also be an immediate end to border killings. We also advocate right to return of the people displaced by conflicts and refugees.
  • Right to mobility, assurance of dignity and right to work as well as physical protection, basic amenities and adequate wages which should be given to migrants and end to slave-like treatment. The survivors of trafficking must be protected, especially women and children. Bonded labour should be eliminated at all cost. Similarly, the rights of individuals and communities subjected to forced displacement due to conflict, disaster, and development projects should be protected.
  • Freedom of association and assembly ensured for the people; consultation of citizens should be assured at all levels of governance in keeping with the core democratic values such as transparency and accountability. We condemn the state sponsored and other targeted attacks on human rights defenders and their loved ones in restraining their duties and responsibilities by way of threats on life, physical, verbal and mental abuse. We advocate for free space for activism for civil society and citizen groups, including women’s groups.
  • Immediate release of political, social, media activists and prisoners of conscience in the region. We also urge upon the governments to stop harassing and repressing political opponents.
  • Respect for fundamental rights of citizens and ensure the enactment of enabling laws and independence and effectiveness of relevant institutions; ensuring rule of law and granting everyone equal protection under law.
  • Ensuring governments’ commitment for genuine elections, as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments, and ensure voting rights to women and other disadvantaged groups.
  • Governments’ commitment to end direct and indirect control over media and ensure media freedom.
  • Governments’ assurance to people’s right to information and knowledge.
  • Governments’ commitment to respect the international Human Rights instruments and the mandates of the organizations to which their State is a party; and implement the same effectively in order to uplift the living standards of the people.
  • Assurance of social equality for the people of the region, especially Dalits, other minorities and women.
  • Rights of all workers in accordance with the International Conventions and National Constitutions.
  • Strengthening of peoples’ resilience to natural and human made disasters such as floods, landslides droughts, earthquakes, cyclones and other hazards occurring due to the climate change.
  • Recognition of health, education, land and housing, food security and work as basic human rights; we endorse the sustenance of the provision of public infrastructure such as housing, health, education and other civic amenities through democratic sources of development finance. We urge upon the governments to implement the 2030 Agenda, otherwise known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We uphold the principle of basic services for all notwithstanding privatization.
We pledge to continue to learn, inspire and empower each other in making citizens’ voices heard in the region.

We call upon the South Asian Governments to seriously heed these concerns and effectively address them, actively engage with citizens towards transparent and accountable governance, and enforce constitutional guarantees and freedoms for the people towards a just and peaceful South Asia.

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