We, members of civil society from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, have gathered in Kathmandu, Nepal on 7 and 8 July 2017 at the Round Table Discussion on Peace, Security, and Protection of Human Rights at Borders in South Asia convened by South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), to discuss the diverse conflicts and their related issues in and around the borders within South Asia, and between South Asia and Myanmar, including labour migration and human trafficking; contraband trade; territorial integrity; armed militancy; marine resources; refugees and stateless persons; riparian resources and energy; women’s livelihoods and women’s bodies; nationalisms and populisms, etc.
We underline our utmost commitment and desire to live in a tolerant, democratic, equal, peaceful, inclusive and just South Asia, free from all forms of violence and marginalisation.
We recognise and value the strengths and advantages of the rich regional cultural diversity and multiplicity of identities in South Asia; while being of one voice in our collective opposition to all structures of oppression, discrimination and suffering experienced by our peoples.
We endorse democratic, inclusive and participatory political processes towards the mitigation and resolution of border conflicts; while taking into consideration the very real inequalities between the different states in the region; and inequalities of various forms including gender, class, ethnicity, caste, religious identity and so on, within states.
We support South Asian people’s movements for democracy and peace, and against authoritarianism from any quarter that are ongoing in the countries in the region. We salute the countless people who are constantly engaged in such struggles for justice with unwavering determination, despite the manifold risks to their personal security and the safety of their loved ones.
We are deeply concerned by the recent trend of political manipulation of religious belief and sentiment by political parties and non-state actors, creating a climate of insecurity and fear among the people, especially religious minorities; despite constitutional guarantees of equality irrespective of caste, class, ethnicity, religion or gender.
We reiterate that all states in South Asia have international and domestic human rights obligations towards their citizens and other persons; and that the due process of the law should be followed in all instances of conflict in and around the borderlands of South Asian states; with no exceptions on grounds of national security, counter-terrorism, nor for stateless persons, undocumented migrants, and the like.
We emphasise that while the State has the primary responsibility to promote and protect human security and human rights within its borders, that this undertaking is not possible without the active and informed participation of the people.
We affirm and reiterate our commitment to advocate for the protection of the rights of the people in our region, and to find durable and equitable solutions to conflicts in and around the borders between South Asian states, and between South Asia and its neighbours.
We urge the governments of the South Asian states:
- To bring an immediate end to all border killings; and ensure state security forces respect and safeguard the right to life and to a fair trial, of all.
- To uphold the voluntary right of return of refugees, the stateless, and people displaced by conflicts, and adhere to the principle of non-refoulement.
- To protect the right to mobility, assurance of dignity and right to work as well as physical safety, basic amenities and adequate wages which should be given to migrants, and to end their slave-like treatment regardless of their nationality and legal status; as well as the rights of those who have been trafficked, especially women and children.
- To ensure free movement of peoples in the region, encouraging and facilitating easier people-to-people contact and communication, towards a visa-free South Asia.
- To ensure national security laws are consistent with international human rights standards and do not victimise individuals and groups on the basis of their nationality, known or presumed HIV/AIDS status, religion, culture, political belief, gender, caste, ethnicity, language and sexual orientation and gender identity.
- To guarantee that fishermen/fish labourers (of the trawlers) trespassing the maritime boundaries to be prosecuted under relevant laws and repatriated immediately; if they are detained their rights to have legal representation, due legal process without avoidable delays, necessary facilities and treatment during their detention period and communication with families to be protected.
- To pursue a No Arrest Policy on traditional fishermen trespassing the maritime borders.
- To heed the international obligations as a duty bearer to conventions on human rights and the conservation of environment and protection of biodiversity in planning and implementing bi-lateral development projects such as the Coal Power Plant at Rampal, Bangladesh; we urge our Governments not to support or undertake any such projects that are deemed to be in violation of the above.
- To undertake measures for basin-wide conservation and sustainable development of border rivers of South-Asia by reflecting the emerging and established norms of internal watercourse law and international environmental regime.
- To ensure the meaningful participation of women and men in the peace, security and governance processes of states.
- To ensure the people’s right to information and knowledge on the range and complexity of border issues in the SAARC region.
- To renew the SAARC Charter, according to the changing needs and aspirations of South Asian peoples in the 21st century, including the peaceful resolution of human rights and human security issues in the region.
- To facilitate the meaningful participation of the diversity of South Asian civil society in all SAARC processes, programmes and official summit.
- To host the much delayed SAARC summit within 2017; and to ensure that it is conducted on a regular basis thereafter.
We call upon the governments of South Asia to urgently heed our concerns and address them in a timely and effective manner, while actively engaging with citizens towards transparent and accountable government, and enforcing constitutional protections and freedoms of all peoples, towards a just and peaceful South Asia.
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) convened a Round Table Discussion on ‘Peace, Security, and Protection of Human Rights at Borders in South Asia’ on 7 and 8 July 2017 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Civil society representatives from South Asia entailing researchers, activists and former government officials participated in this systematic discussion at the regional level on border related issues to identify priority areas for further collaborative action and to discuss methods for the promotion of meaningful contribution of women in the mainstream security discourse; and recommend region-wide strategies to respond to border related issues. The Round Table was also a follow up to the regional level research carried out by SAHR on the impact of human rights violations of the people living in the borders on their lives and livelihood. (The publication can be accessed here.)