On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a democratic regional network of human rights defenders committed to the promotion and protection of human rights at both national and regional levels, we welcome the convening of the Summit of Heads of State of SAARC countries in Thimphu from 28th – 29th April 2010.
South Asians share a common history and culture of tolerance and pluralism. Our ideals represent the principles of peace, democracy, secularism and human security as the basis of our diverse nationhoods. But our region remains backward and one of the poorest because of our divisiveness and intolerance of differences.
The original purpose for which SAARC was formed – i.e. peace, freedom, social justice and economic prosperity through poverty alleviation and promotion of democracy as a basis for citizen-state relationship – can be best achieved in the South Asian region by fostering mutual understanding, good neighbourly relations and meaningful cooperation among member states. 2010 marks 25 years of SAARC, and we believe that this is a good opportunity for all SAARC member countries to recall the goals and purposes for which SAARC was created in order to live in peace and amity.
With the commencement of the SAARC summit in Bhutan, SAHR would like to highlight and bring to the attention of the Heads of States of the member countries several grave situations in the region:
- Today, Terrorism is a serious threat to peace in South Asia. Most terrorist movements are political and SAHR reiterates that military means should not be the main method of countering this threat. A meaningful dialogue between governments of the region and free exchange of views amongst citizens is essential to build blocks of peace. While SAHR applauds the initiatives taken by the governments of India and Pakistan for dialogue we respectfully urge that these talks are continued so as to realize the vision of a peaceful and just South Asia.
- The region is one of the poorest and a large number of citizens are faced with extreme poverty. SAHR believes that poverty is a violation of human rights and it is not an inevitable condition but the most evident indicator of bad governance. Recalling that SAARC countries continue to affirm the universal principles and values of human rights in previous summit declarations, SAHR notes that the governments are obliged to respect the principles of right to health, education, food security, water and development.
- South Asians share many bonds of family, kinship, religion and geographical proximity. Yet it is a region where restrictions on our freedom of movement across borders divide us. The formation of SAARC had raised hopes amongst the people of the region that it would lead to greater unity of the people, loosening of artificial boundaries and freedom of movement. On the contrary the governments are increasing restriction on people to people contacts and dialogues. SAHR believes that interaction across countries and regions would open possibilities to explore for a more just, peaceful, sustainable and equitable paths for development in the region and thus urge governments to work towards a visa free South Asia.
- SAHR also notes that the marginalized in the region, the women and children have suffered more. SAARC countries must ensure that the rights of the child are secured and that governments legislate for equal rights to eliminate gender discrimination, work towards their social acceptance and deter violence against women, including trafficking.
- South Asia is in need of alternate regional trade arrangements and an economic framework which will ensure a democratic alternative to neo-liberal trade instruments. SAHR believes that fair trade relations within South Asia could also lead to peace and harmony in the region as well as act as a precondition for fair trade relations with the rest of the world and request the member states to take measures for fair regional trade.
- Water sharing between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal has also risen to a level which requires immediate response. Cooperation on river waters could significantly improve the lives of millions of people and SAHR urges the governments of SAARC member countries to address this issue collectively.
- Bhutanese refugees in India and Nepal, IDPs In Sri Lanka and Baluchistan, and foreign prisoners and detained fisher folk in various South Asian prisons continue to impose a challenge to the region. SAHR believes that solutions should be sought at a regional level and speedy measures be taken by the relevant authorities to address these situations.
- In all South Asian countries Human Rights are not adequately promoted or protected because international human rights and humanitarian law is not implemented, even if treaties are ratified. Across the region extra judicial killings, torture and threats to human rights defenders and media personnel are increasing. SAHR urges the governments of SAARC to collectively take action to stop human rights abuses and endorse human rights conventions into domestic legislation so as to ensure fundamental freedoms to life and liberty.
In light of the above issues we call upon the SAARC governments to seriously address these concerns of the region. SAHR believes that the SAARC forum can and should ensure that the progress and process of democracy in the South Asian region is not hijacked by short- sighted political or economic interests and urges all member states to guarantee social justice by ensuring the promotion and protection of people’s fundamental rights.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Hameeda Hossain
Co – Chairperson