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. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” yet today, the fight against violations of human rights remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe. This year with the focus on “human rights defenders who act to end discrimination” this day aims to highlight and promote the achievements of human rights defenders and will intend to inspire a new generation of defenders to speak up and take action.
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. 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”. Gender injustice is seen in all South Asian countries and minorities 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.
The entire range of violations that human rights defenders attempt to address is often directed at the defenders themselves. Human rights defenders all over the world have consistently been the victims of extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, and torture. Their everyday work is severely impeded by restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, expression and movement. The space for human rights defenders to operate is shrinking further.
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. They advocate justice and seek to protect the victims of human rights violations and demand accountability for perpetrators and transparency in government action. In so doing, they are often putting at risk their own safety, and that of their families.
Further, people who stand up for violations of human rights are branded as “traitors”, “outsiders” and ” agents of the west”. But contrary to this rhetoric, SAHR as a South Asian fraternity of human rights defenders, believe that we are very much grounded in South Asian cultural milieus and that it is the richness of our cultural and philosophical heritage which inspires us to seek justice for all.
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. Nimalka Fernando