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Delhi meet to network regional human rights issues in South Asia, implementation of UN conventions

By Our Representative
The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), an influential Delhi-based advocacy group, is all set to set up a regional mechanism in order to ensure “effective" implementation of international human rights norms and standards in South Asia. Led by senior activist Henri Tiphagne, WGHR will be deliberating on the crucial issue on August 26-27 with several rights bodies across India at a workshop. A concept note for workshop participants said, though the region comprises over one-fourth of the world population, human rights violations in the region have met with “a stubborn stand on state-centred view of national sovereignty, insisting on the principle of non-interference.”
The note regrets, “Despite the grave human rights challenges in all South Asian states, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has shied away from adopting specific mechanisms to address these challenges. SAARC has nevertheless adopted various instruments and conventions touching upon several aspects of human rights.” It underlines, human rights “are not explicitly guaranteed by the SAARC Charter”.
This is so despite the fact that all SAARC members, with the exception of Bhutan, have signed and ratified (or acceded to) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), two multilateral treaties at the core of the International Bill of Human Rights along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Perhaps also compelling is the fact that all eight members are state parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)”, the note says, adding, “As such, these seven countries have multilateral obligations to reinforce the rights stipulated in these two covenants, which are all the basic human rights.”
Running into dozen-odd chapters, the note says that peoples of South Asia “share a common history of culture, social, linguistic, political and economic similarities”, yet “the region marred with mutual distrust, limiting people-to people contact”. It adds, “Most states inherited the commonwealth legacy after the end of the European colonial era. Newly independent states soon slipped into a series of confirmation over territorial and ethnic issues.”
The note says, “The region continues to grapple with extreme levels of poverty, inequality, illiteracy, unemployment, sectarian violence, extremism and terrorism resulting in serious human rights violations relating to torture, arbitrary detentions, disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials, marginalization, of minorities, and violence against women and children.”
It underlines, “Instances of political persecution of critics, political opponents, journalists, and human rights activists are also a flagrant practice in many South Asian states. Endemic state corruption has also led to systematic abuse of social, economic, cultural, and environmental rights of large majorities of people. Manifestly, human rights abuse is a serious and pervasive problem in all South Asian States and is often met with impunity.”
Saying that “trans-border human rights violations” are a major area of concern, the note says, “South Asia witnesses a surge in such cross-border violations in the form of instances of violence in border areas, trafficking, abuse of migrant workers, pollution caused by massive developmental projects and water sharing disputes. Domestic incidences involving religious, ethnic or linguistic groups may also cause ripples in states that share such similarities.”
It adds, “Domestic systems and courts are often not structurally equipped to handle and remedy these issues. The region is riddled with the lack of independent, impartial and efficient institutions to address human rights violations. Despite the existence of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in most countries in South Asia, human rights abuses have largely been unchecked.”
Pointing out in this context that a regional mechanism is as an “appropriate complement to the international and national human rights systems”, the concept note says, it can be an important value addition aiding the collective furthering and implementing internationally recognized norms and standards for human rights.” In fact, it can play “crucial role” by “facilitating the development of complementary human rights norms and standards that are of concern to the states in the region” and fill in “the lacunae in the reach and influence of national and international human rights institutions.”
“If properly funded and provided with an independent mandate, a regional human rights mechanism can play a crucial role in the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the region. By actively promoting and protecting human rights through facilitating human rights education programmes, awareness campaigns and other informational activities the mechanism can generate greater reach, acceptance and respect for international norms”, the note says.

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