South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) a regional human rights network, is concerned about the increased visa restrictions in the region. Recently, Ms. Sultana Kamal, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist in Bangladesh, who is also a SAHR Bureau Member, was denied visa to visit India in December 2016. She is the present chairperson of Transparency International Bangladesh and held an advisory position to the caretaker government of Bangladesh. Ms. Kamal was given reception by the Indian Government as a freedom fighter in 2007 at the Fort Williams in Kolkata and has travelled to India innumerable times since 1971 for both professional and personal reasons.
Many other respected and recognised prominent civil society persons have had to face similar circumstances due to their commitment towards the promotion and protection of human rights of the South Asian people. Consequently civil society have limited congregational space to conduct collaborative regional activities. South Asia continues to be a “disconnected” region with people still unable to travel with comfort and ease. Visas to visit South Asian countries is a long and arduous task for its people and an almost impossible task for Afghans and options for direct travel to capitals remain minimal.
Even though regional connectivity was the overall theme of the 18th official SAARC Summit held in 2014 so far no substantial outcomes have been achieved towards visa liberalisation. This situation is aggravated by the state centric national security protocols. Civil society constantly reiterate the need for people to people, track ll, diplomacy to improve trust and promote free mobility in the region.
At this time, SAHR urges the states to adhere to their endeavours of creating an integrated South Asia while mutually respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and people’s security of the countries. It calls upon the governments to achieve visa liberalisation as the stepping stone to strengthen solidarity among the people of South Asia which in turn will contribute towards cooperation, peace and harmony in the region.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Nimalka Fernando