South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

New Delhi

13 to 15 September, 2010

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a network of human rights defenders and concerned citizens, held a three day meeting on “Challenges to Peace and Prospects for Cooperation in South Asia” at the India International Centre, New Delhi, from the 13th-15th September, 2010.

The meeting:

1. Expressed sympathy and solidarity with the people of Pakistan on the devastation caused by the floods, and regretted that no collective action had been taken by SAARC or other regional bodies to provide support, whereas natural or man made calamities in any South Asian country must be treated as a matter of regional responsibility.

2. Expressed grave concern at the erosion of democracy and rise of authoritarianism in Sri Lanka after the war, and delay in settlement of Tamils interned in camps and called for a return to democratic norms and a humanitarian approach to internees problem. Regretted the role of other South Asian countries in not supporting the UN Human Rights Council proposal for an enquiry into war crimes.

3. Expressed shock at the increasing number of victims of recent state violence in Kashmir and the loss of lives in the past three months and urged that immediate steps must be taken to ensure that the human rights of the people are respected and laws such as AFSPA that are contrary to human rights principles be reviewed/repealed. Called for urgent talks between the concerned parties to seek ways for non-violent solutions which would be acceptable to the people of Kashmir.

4. Regretted that while Independence was won through non-violent struggles, South Asia has been the site of conflicts, prolonged disputes, sectarian violence and terrorism. The failure of India and Pakistan to resolve long standing disputes has perpetuated hostility, the costs of which are evident in the absence of regional cooperation and repudiation of peoples’ rights to natural resources, for trade and investment, for freedom of movement. Increasingly, severe visa regulations have become an impediment to the free movement of people. Thousands are arrested at the borders or while fishing in the deep sea. Many have been killed by border forces. SAARC itself has been ineffective, even after 25 years, in providing a regional framework for human rights.

5.Identified terrorism, religious extremism and communalization as major threats to peace, democratic development and security in South Asia. Expanding terrorist activities and networks across the region from Pakistan to India and Bangladesh have undermined human rights, increased polarisation and prevented reconciliation.

6. Critiqued state responses to terrorism which further enhanced insecurity and instability and led to militarization. It has sanctioned impunity for intelligence agencies and security forces, allowed methods of lawless law enforcement, and prevented any accountability for disappearances and extra-judicial killings in all countries of the region, particularly in Sri Lanka during the recent conflict.

7. Expressed its deep concern at the escalation of violence in Afghanistan which may be exacerbated by competitive and conflicting claims of India and Pakistan, and reiterated an urgent need for political engagement through South Asian Dialogues between governments and between concerned citizens. A concerted South Asian initiative to help Afghanistan regain peace and establish a democratic, pluralist society must not be delayed so that peace and justice comes to ravaged Afghanistan.

8. Viewed with concern the failure of South Asian states to move beyond majoritarian rule under a democratic façade, and called upon the youth to end their alienation from politics, to struggle to liberate national politics from domination by personalities and patronage, and establish traditions of genuine democratic participation of all citizens in political processes.

9. Hoped that the initiatives for a Peace Accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and consensus building for a constitution in Nepal would be taken forward.

10. The meeting concluded with the following recommendations for regional cooperation, action by governments and citizens’ activism:

Regional Initiatives by SAARC:

a. Set up a disaster management fund to assist countries to overcome natural disasters and explore setting up disaster management mechanisms to cope with rehabilitation of victims.

b. Explore possibilities of a regional mechanism for post-conflict reconciliation.

c. Formulate a South Asian protocol on treatment of prisoners in conformity with the UN standards.

e. Engage citizens in discussions on the drafting of a Democracy Charter.

f. Initiate studies, discussions to work out measures for regional cooperation in sharing of water and other natural resources.

g. Allow representation from citizens’ groups at SAARC meetings.

h. Formulate a regional convention for settlement of the internally displaced in conformity with the UN guiding principles on IDP.

South Asian States

1. India and Pakistan to immediately restart negotiations for resolution of all disputes and disagreements.

2. India, Pakistan and other states to support peace initiatives of the Afghans based on UN resolutions and regional consensus.

3. Institute legal mechanisms for accountability for disappearances and extra judicial killings, including codifying disappearances and extra judicial killings as criminal offences.

4. Engage citizens in decision making processes.

5. Recognize right to self determination as enunciated in UN conventions, ICCPR & ICESCR to which all SAHR countries are party.

6. Evolve a criminal justice system based on respect for human rights and the principles of equity.

7. Withdraw immunity and protection from criminal prosecution for public servants, especially law enforcement personnel and security forces.

8. Take effective measures for settlement of internally displaced persons, allocate land and set up educational institutions in accordance with the UN guiding principles for IDPs.

9. Expedite progress towards ensuring equal rights for women.

Human rights defenders and activists

1. Campaign for ratification of UN convention on disappearances.

2. Work for solidarity amongst citizens against militarization, terrorist violence.

3. Establish a South Asia Commission (with prominent figures, including eminent jurists) to investigate cases of disappearances, extra judicial killings and border deaths.

4. Promote mechanisms for post conflict reconciliation.

5. Media to be more pro-active in promoting peace and regional cooperation.

6. Inter generational dialogues with the youth on human rights, initiatives for peace and social change.

7. Regional reporting on violations of human rights in each country.

Yours Sincerely,

Hameeda Hossain

Co Chairperson