STATEMENT ISSUED AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE SAHR REGIONAL CONSULTATION OF CITIZENS’ VOICES ON “THE CHALLENGES FOR SOUTH ASIA : HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY”

Kathmandu , 27-29 November 2010
 
South Asians for Human rights (SAHR), a network of independent human rights activists from eight countries, noted with concern the lack of transparency of democratic institutions, and the exclusion of citizen’s participation in legislation and policy making.
 
The meeting welcomed the SAARC Summit initiative for a Charter of Democracy but were concerned that the draft of the charter was limited to a bureaucratic exercise and did not ensure that citizen’s voices be heard. 
 
SAHR recognises that the people of South Asia share common bonds of culture, history and geography but notes with concern that government visa regulations have restricted freedom of movement within the region.  This has frequently led to cross border killings by security forces and detention of foreigners in prison in neighbouring countries.
 
SAHR notes with concern the threats to people’s sovereignty due to increased militarization, anti-terrorist and security laws which give impunity for violations of the right to life, liberty and freedom of torture, erosion of secularism, and dominance of majoritarian interests in political decision making. The upsurge of extremist violence and obscurantism has encouraged customary practices which are a threat to women’s rights to movement, choice and security. 
 
SAHR is concerned that emergency laws imposed in the name of state sovereignty undermine people’s sovereignty,  and that parliaments need to become transparent and open to citizens’ participation  so that legislation promotes human rights.
 
SAHR was concerned  with the use of religion as a tool for discrimination against minority communities even in  secular States, and that while the constitutions guarantee equality irrespective of caste, class, ethnicity, religion or gender, attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship are committed with impunity.
 
Armed conflicts, economic development, natural disasters, climate change have led to internal  displacement, further contributing to poverty and deprivation. 
 
SAHR calls upon governments of South Asia to:
Include citizens’ voices in the formulation of the SAARC Charter of Democracy through active engagement with citizens’ groups.
·        Repeal or amend security laws to include human rights guarantees.
·        Enforce constitutional guarantees of freedom from torture.
·        Urge the government of Bhutan to release political prisoners, set up effective and efficient institutions to oversee human rights and to resettle Bhutanese refugees in their home country.
·        Prevent the usage of emergency laws to suppress fundamental rights and dissent.
·        Ensure constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and thought, without fear of repercussions or reprisal.
·        Formulate a South Asian protocol on treatment of prisoners in accordance with the Paris Principles and a regional convention for settlement of the internally displaced persons in conformity with the UN Guiding Principles on IDPs.
·        Ratify the UN Conventions on Refugees and the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families and include clauses to protect migrant workers in bilateral treaties.
 
SAHR recognises that while the State has the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, this is not possible without the active engagement of citizens across the region who share a common South Asian identity.
 
SAHR thus urges human rights defenders and activists to:
 
·        Engage with parliamentarians in order to ensure that human rights concerns are addressed in parliament.
·        Press on governments and government institutions to halt discriminatory practices that serve to further marginalise minorities, because of their religion, language, ethnicity, caste, sect, gender and sexual orientation.
·        Put pressure on their respective governments to end military rule in Burma .
·        Engage in draft a Charter of Democracy which would contribute to an inclusive, democratic culture and strengthen democratic institutions. 
·        Interact closely with media to provide information, to promote and protect human rights and to strengthen freedom of expression and thought. 
  
  
South Asians for Human Rights
Kathmandu , 29 November 2010

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