South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) extend warm greetings to all friends who will be commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This year with the focus to embrace diversity and end discrimination the adoption marks a historic milestone in the evolution of our common understanding, and affirmation, of values we deem inviolable: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe.
The rich diversity of cultures and religions seen in the South Asian region should help to strengthen fundamental human rights in all communities. Instead we are faced with armed conflicts which lead to the breakdown of infrastructure and civic institutions, to greater human suffering and increased poverty, which are ultimately the violations of the rights of people.
Discrimination and impunity are the major sources of violations of human rights in South Asia. Every year, thousands of people are imprisoned for political reasons, often without charges or trials. Torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement agencies are common, and have lead to many deaths in custody. Hundreds more are victims of extra-judicial executions or forced “disappearances”. Every day countless numbers of women are sexually or physically abused, and the vast majority of their abusers go unpunished. Minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats and are frequently excluded from effective and meaningful participation in the economic, political, social and cultural life of their countries. Similarly indigenous people are often marginalized, deprived of many fundamental rights – including land and property – and lack access to basic services.
SAHR as a South Asian fraternity collectively call upon States in South Asia to commit themselves seriously to the eradication of poverty, to eschew armed conflicts and resort to peaceful settlement of all disputes and also to uphold democratic processes and political systems that are accountable to citizens and thus in turn to respect and realize the rights of all including religious and ethnic minorities, women, children and other excluded groups to enable them to enjoy full human rights
In each of our countries human rights defenders, sometimes under great threat, continue to struggle for a culture of tolerance and peace, for respect for our plural traditions and for gender equality. As we make demands upon our States to protect our economic and political freedoms and ecological security, we also must not allow our communities to alienate citizens on account of their religion, ethnicity, class, caste or gender.
Human rights are indivisible and it is through the practice of equality and non-discrimination that we can create a democratic society. SAHR recognizes the importance of creating awareness and activating citizens to demand respect for their rights and to respect the rights of others. As citizens of countries belonging to the South Asian region we must challenge the prejudice and discrimination we accost even within our own communities and join hands to embrace diversity and reject discrimination.
SAHR as a network of human rights defenders in South Asia share in the commemoration of the values of human rights and democratic practice across the region. We pledge to stand by the struggles that aim to promote democracy and uphold human rights across the region.
On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Hameeda Hossain
10th December 2009