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The SAHR Bangladesh Chapter organized a national consultation on the proposed draft of the “SAARC Democracy Charter: Citizens’ Initiative” on Monday 11 April 2011 at the Senate Bhaban, University of Dhaka. Shaheen Anam, the Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation and Bureau member of SAHR presided over the consultation. Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations of the Dhaka University (DU) presented the draft on behalf of the South Asia Centre for Economic Policy (SACEP), Kathmandu, which had initially formalized the draft. The said draft consists of 10 sections and 50 articles, focusing mainly on the obligations of the SAARC Member State in nurturing democratic institutions, guaranteeing the rights of the citizens, strengthening the rule of law, peace and justice, and including consolidating political, economic and social governance for the welfare and happiness of the people of this region.
At the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimpu, Bhutan on 28-29 April 2010, Bangladesh had put forward the idea of having a Democracy Charter for the South Asian region. Following this, an Inter-governmental process was launched and a draft was approved recently at the Ministerial level albeit without the participation of the people, including parliamentarians, non-governmental agencies, human rights organizations, and civil society members. Those who participated in today’s meeting found the Inter-governmental process falling short of all democratic norms if not undemocratic. Interestingly, the draft approved at the Ministerial level even did not use terms like ‘shall’ or ‘will,’ and therefore the Member States ceased to have any ‘obligation’ in reproducing democracy in South Asia. In view of this, the participants strongly suggested that the respective governments of all SAARC Member States begin a dialogue with all the stakeholders of democracy. The “Citizens’ Initiative” draft, presented at the consultation, could prove fruitful in such a dialogue. Asif Nazrul of DU, Khushi Kabir of Nijerakori, Hameeda Hossain of Ain O Salish Kendra, Ambassador Ashfaqur Rahman, Professor Zillur Rahman, Professor Ishrat Shamim, Professor Amena Mohsin, and many more participated in the discussion.