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FOCUS March 2001 Volume 23

South Asians for Human Rights

An introduction

Human rights activists in South Asian countries have for a long time supported the concept of evolving collective mechanisms on many issues of common concern, particularly in view of the fact that many human rights issues demand bilateral and regional solutions. Recognizing this need a five-member committee comprising Mr. I. K. Gujral from India, Dr. Kamal Hosain from Bangladesh, Dr. Devendra Raj Panday from Nepal, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka, and Ms. Asma Jahangir from Pakistan met to discuss the possibility of a South Asian regional initiative on human rights. In order to ensure that the proposed initiative enjoys broad support in all countries of South Asia, it was decided to hold a convention of about 100 people. The delegates were drawn from recognized human rights organizations and included jurists, academics, public figures, media persons, etc. Special attention was paid to ensure gender balance and to allow representation of ethnic minorities/indigenous people. The convention was held in Neemrana Fort, Rajhasthan, India on July 21-22, 2000. After extensive discussions, they adopted the Neemrana declaration and decided to set up an organization under the title South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR).

South Asians for Human Rights is a democratic regional body with a large membership base of people committed to addressing human rights issues at both national and regional levels. According to the organization structure its members, both institutions and individuals, form the network's general body. The organization will elect a bureau to function as its executive body at its first general body meeting which is likely to be held in 2001. Till then an interim bureau, comprising three members each from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will work as the organization's executive body. A membership committee has also started functioning and, under the rules adopted by it, membership process has begun.


Neemrana Declaration

We, the peoples of South Asia ム human rights activists, groups, network, and initiatives ムbelonging to civil society in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, met at Neemrana, Rajasthan, India, on July 21 and 22, 2000.

Affirming our belief in the inalienable human rights and dignity of every individual in our region;

Recognising the grave human rights situation in South Asia, with its terrible legacy of persistent poverty, deprivation, illiteracy, inequality, caste and social hierarchy, discrimination against women and exploitation of children, itself further aggravated by authoritarian, militarist and sectarian tendencies amidst violence and state repression;

Concerned at the encroachment on human rights through unequal globalisation and pursuit of elitist domestic policies which harm the interests of the working people and their right to survival, security and a life with dignity;

Acknowledging that human rights violations in one country often spill over into the other countries in the region and potentially generate bilateral/regional tensions and hostility, thus threatening peace;

Recognising the existence in South Asia of diverse communities, linguistic and ethnic groups, indigenous people (Adivasis and tribals), and socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society, and widespread discrimination against numerous classes;

Accepting that human rights are indispensable to balanced social and economic development, and affirming civil society's role in guiding and assisting the state in all matters, including human rights, governance and creating a culture of peace, tolerance, secularism and pluralism;

Conscious of the similarities of the human rights deprivation faced by South Asian peoples as well as their common culture, resources and legacies, and shared experiences and aspirations;

Inspired by the substantial achievements of the numerous existing human rights movements in South Asia, and realising the need for more effective participation and networking;

And affirming concepts enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our constitutional documents, and various international covenants such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child, treaties for the protection of working people, minorities, migrants and refugees, and against torture and genocide;

Agree to establish a voluntary, democratic, people's organisation under the title, 'South Asians for Human Rights', with the following objectives:

To foster the concept of multiple South Asian identities by enabling people to realise their ideals and aspirations for peace, democracy, secularism and human security, while promoting pluralism in approaches towards social, political, economic and cultural development of different communities, ethnic, linguistic, religious and other groups.

To campaign for the creation of regional instruments for:

  • Uniform enjoyment of human rights;
  • Realisation of gender equality and justice;
  • Strengthening regional economic and technological cooperation and resisting predatory globalisation;
  • Promoting regional interaction and mutual enrichment in the spheres of education, literature, culture and the arts;
  • Sharing experiences and developing platforms to assert the rights of labour and other working people, and to eliminate poverty and disparities;
  • Challenging all forms of communal and parochial prejudice, bigotry and violence;
  • Humane treatment to migrant workers and refugees and other vulnerable groups which often face discrimination;

To struggle collectively for the uniform realisation of the South Asia people's right to participatory democracy, good governance and justice;

To review laws, practices, social and political trends and economic policies which adversely affect human rights and to suggest remedial measures;

To monitor and resist the violation of human rights by state authorities and non-state elements;

To oppose usurpation of people's sovereign power and derogation of human rights by state terrorism, religious fanaticism, communalism, militarism and nuclearism, and to fight for a nuclear weapons-free South Asia as a step towards a world free of weapons of mass destruction;

To demand constitutional and legal guarantees necessary to usher in a just society consistent with international human rights norms;

To oppose customs whose practice in the name of the "community" or traditional "morality" creates hatred, prejudice and sectarianism; and to assert the primacy of reason, tolerance and mutual respect;

To advocate and work towards ensuring adherence to humanitarian norms in all conflict situations;

To encourage the building of peaceful border areas between and among the countries of the region without resorting to conflict and violence;

To resist and remove all forms of crime including traffic in women and children;

To maintain mutually beneficial relations with international agencies such as the UN and SAARC and to promote dialogue and mutual cooperation;

To campaign for a common strategy to protect the environment in the region and promote ecologically sound development.


For further information contact: Provisional secretariat, South Asians for Human Rights, c/o Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 107 Tipu Block, New Garden Town, Lahore, Pakistan, ph (92-42) 583-8131, 586-4994; fax (92-42) 588-3582; e-mail: sahrlhr@yahoo. com


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