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Civil rights activists from India, neighbours to form South Asia Council, lobby on human rights with SAARC

By Our Representative
A Delhi Declaration adopted by over 100 senior civil rights activists from 20 Indian states, and joined by representatives from Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that a People’s/Citizens South Asia Council would be formed in order to lobby for the formation of a human rights mechanism under the South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC). The declaration— whose text was released five days later -- was adopted at the end of two-day consultations (August 26 and 27, 2014) in Delhi. The council, it said, would reflect “the diversity of the vast region.”
The council would simultaneously work for the “promotion and protection of human rights for all in the region, including the threats posed by aggressive militarization and nuclearisation in the name of security; the human rights of nomadic and migrant populations, bonded labour, informal and rural workers”, the declaration said, adding it would also examine problems of “women and children who are victims of trafficking, migrant and indigenous labour.” The consultation was sponsored by the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR).
Then, it would take up issues of “fish workers, South Asian asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons; the protection of the rights of all including populations who suffer from gender, religion and caste-based discrimination; cross border issues including the conduct of security forces and paramilitary and basic economic and social and cultural rights, including inalienable rights of all peoples towards natural resources”, the declaration said.
Pointing out that the council would work for the “reform in the criminal justice system geared towards peace and justice; and violations in the name of national security and counter terrorism”, the declaration said, “No issue that concerns human rights will be beyond the purview of the council. Part of the exercise of its establishment will be to preserve existing and create new records, evidence and documentation” for establishing a SAARC human rights mechanism.
The declaration said, the council would give “equal emphasis to matters of human rights violations and protection through the establishment of tribunals and their recommendatory judgments/ conclusions as also educational and cultural programmes related to the preservation of the environment and our shared cultures”, adding, “Specific to this mandate will be the creation of an alternate methods and means of communication to link the concerns of human rights preservation and protection between and through the peoples of South Asia.”
Earlier, a concept note distributed at the consultation said that SAARC was the only regional inter-state association in the world which did not have a human rights mechanism. It said, “At present all regional organizations similar to SAARC – the ASEAN, the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the League of Arab States – all have a human rights body. SAARC is the only such regional organization to not have a human rights body or treaty for cooperation of its members on issues related to the International Covenants and other core international instruments on human rights.”
The concept note stressed that as long “as the two principles of non-interference and the exclusion of contentious issues are a part of the SAARC Charter, the regional organization will find it difficult to engage meaningfully on subject of human rights without contravening the terms of its Charter, and will not be able to take the next step as a human rights arbiter. Among the major human rights challenges in the region today, several revolve around civil and political rights where meaningful arbitration by a regional human rights body would require interfering in contentious issues in the internal affairs of a member state.”

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