South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a democratic regional network of human rights defenders committed to the protection and promotion of human rights at both national and regional levels, we welcome the convening of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Addu, Maldives from 10th–11th November 2011.

The formation of SAARC in 1985 raised strong hopes among people that it would lead to greater unity, loosening of artificial boundaries, and increased freedom of movement. Yet South Asia, which has a rich diversity of cultures, religions and ethnicities and nurtured pluralist societies, is today marked by divisive relations between governments, discrimination between communities and the persistence of poverty. There is an urgent need for a peaceful environment, people centred development and a meaningful realization of human rights and democratic governance.

At the 16th SAARC Summit held in Thimpu in 2010, the leaders had spoken for connectivity, for a democracy charter and for sharing of resources in order to eliminate poverty and realize justice. SAHR welcomes this development and would like to draw attention of South Asian leaders to critical issues that must be addressed if these goals are to be addressed:

After decades of divisiveness and intolerance, there is a growing demand from citizens for unity, tolerance, genuine participatory democracy and human rights. These issues have been raised through citizens’ activism at the national and regional level. They have demanded that the SAARC governments take genuine steps towards reducing poverty, ending communal hostility, enabling freedom of movement within the region, striving for gender equality and for people-centred and environmentally-friendly development.

In November 2010 while SAHR welcomed the inter-governmental process to frame a SAARC Charter for Democracy, it noted that the process of initiating such a charter was ill-designed, if not undemocratic, as it lacks transparency and remains devoid of people’s participation. SAHR further communicated to the Foreign Ministers and Speakers of Parliament of SAARC member states to immediately engage the parliamentarians, civil and human rights activists, opinion makers and other concerned members of society in the drafting process, so that a truly democratic charter inclusive of the hopes and aspirations of the people of this region could be devised and adopted.

Bold initiatives are needed for all South Asian countries to adopt a determined problem-solving approach to resolve inter-country problems. SAHR believes that the SAARC forum can and should ensure that the progress and process of democracy in the region is not hijacked by short-sighted political or economic interests. Therefore we respectfully call upon the SAARC governments to seriously address these concerns and reiterate the need to respect international human rights and humanitarian laws in order to protect and promote human rights, not only within their countries but across the region as a whole.

On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights

Hina Jilani                                                                                Dr. Nimalka Fernando

Chairperson                                                                            Co-Chairperson