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Kathmandu Statement 2011

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Outcome Document of the Second Sub-Regional Workshop on a Human Rights Mechanism in South Asia, 25-26 July 2011, Kathmandu, Nepal

1. The Second Sub-Regional Workshop on Human Rights Mechanism in South Asia—organized by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and hosted by the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) with participants from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national human rights institutions (NHRIs), independent experts and academics from South Asian countries, together with representatives from the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal—discussed in depth the prospects and opportunities for the establishment of a South Asian Human Rights Mechanism within the framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

2. The Workshop was the continuation of the First Sub-Regional Workshop on South Asian Human Rights Mechanism held in Kathmandu, Nepal on 24-25 March 2010. Its outcome document, known as the Kathmandu Declaration (2010) was presented to the then Prime Minister of Nepal seeking his good offices for submission to the 16th SAARC Summit held in Thimpu, Bhutan on 28-29 April 2010.

3. The Workshop noted the fact that at the 16th SAARC Summit, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Republic of the Maldives had pointed out, among others, that:

‘…SAARC should consider establishing a regional human rights mechanism, similar to the one being developed for the ASEAN region. This mechanism could help the South Asian States to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in their jurisdiction. It could ensure that international human rights laws are observed and implemented by SAARC members. And such a mechanism could help people in our region develop a common understanding of universal human rights issues and perspectives.’

4. The Workshop proceeded to examine the prevailing situations within the region, as well as SAARC’s 25 years of work, within the context of democracy, human rights and development, including the responses of State and non-State actors within the SAARC framework. The general consensus was to work towards the establishment of a relevant sub-regional human rights mechanism taking into account existing national, regional and international human rights mechanisms, including those under the mandate of the United Nations. There was a particular focus on the role of NHRIs within the region, which have begun to interact as a regional group, through a common resolution adopted at the Conference of NHRIs of South Asian Countries on Human Rights Awareness and National Capacity Building in New Delhi, India on 16-18 April 2009. The Workshop also noted the efforts undertaken by NGOs within the region following the first Workshop.

5. Based on these initiatives, at the very outset, the Workshop reviewed the existing SAARC legal framework in the form of its Charters, Conventions, Agreements and Declarations that provide the basic premises in the path towards establishing a sub-regional human rights mechanism with adequate arrangements for meaningful participation of NGOs, NHRIs, Parliamentarians, the Judiciary, the media and others. Thus, the participants of the Workshop:

Recalled that the foundational Charter of SAARC which stipulates ‘strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter’, which among others, emphasizes the principles of equality, non-discrimination and self-determination, as well as the need ‘to provide all individuals with the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential”;

Recognized the growing number of international human rights treaties, including their related protocols, ratified by SAARC member States, which need to be completed together with the removal of reservations to these treaties;

Acknowledged the engagement of all SAARC countries in the newly established Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which should involve all relevant stakeholders including NGOs in their respective countries, and undertake efforts towards implementing the recommendations as outcomes of UPR;

Affirmed the centrality of social development in the SAARC Social Charter with its inherent nexus to human rights as stated in the objectives, including the right to development which is yet to be operationalised after 25 years;

Welcomed the Thimpu Declaration of the 16th SAARC Summit 2010: Towards a Green and Happy Asia, and the emphasis for developing a ‘Vision Statement’ with convocation of a ‘South Asia Forum’ of eminent personalities and others;

Endorsed the deep concern expressed by the SAARC leaders for environmental degradation and the signing of the SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment which, inter alia, should address the issue of climate change impacting on human rights and sustainable development as it is under consideration at the UNHRC through the initiative of some SAARC countries and others;

Appreciated the initiative on the SAARC Charter of Democracy which offers ample opportunities towards realising human rights for all in ‘a region of democracies’;

Affirmed the Bangkok Action Points adopted at the 15th Workshop of the Framework on Regional Cooperation for the Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region organized by OHCHR on 21-23 April 2010, particularly initiatives by countries to work towards the development of sub-regional human rights mechanisms which are an essential building block for broader human rights arrangements for the Asia-Pacific region;

Called for the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia to be fully implemented involving non-governmental and community-based organisations as provided in Article VIII of the Convention;

Underlined the multiple initiatives undertaken by People’s SAARC and its need to focus further on human rights aspects linked to specific issues and situations in the South Asian region;

Recalled all existing provisions available within the SAARC legal framework clearly underscored the necessity of moving forward towards processes that would facilitate the establishment of a sub-regional human rights mechanism as a logical outcome of SAARC efforts on development, social justice and democracy in realizing SAARC Social Charter;

Underlined the challenges and opportunities that exist for SAARC as a regional body to move forward due to its limited visibility in the public domain which has been also acknowledged by the Thimpu Summit where (29 April 2010) ‘the leaders laid emphasis on effective communications and public diplomacy’ and ‘drew attention in this regard to the need to reach out to different sections of the South Asian Community.’

6. Taking on board all the deliberations of the two-day Workshop, the participants put forward the following recommendations addressed to specific parties:

6.1. To SAARC Leaders:

(i)     To convene the ‘South Asian Forum’ at the earliest possible occasion to formulate a ‘Vision Statement’ for SAARC with the full involvement of eminent persons and other stake-holders, with due consideration given to the promotion and protection of human rights as per the Thimpu Summit Declaration of April 2010.

(ii)   To consider the full operationalisation of the principles and objectives of the SAARC Social Charter and the SAARC Charter of Democracy particularly the observance and protection of human rights consistent with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and other international human rights instruments, with suitable arrangements for the meaningful participation of civil society, including NGOs in its implementation;

(iii) To explore the path towards the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism with genuine and meaningful civil society participation at the forthcoming 17th SAARC Summit scheduled to take place in the Maldives on 10-11 November 2011;

(iv)  To promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through gender mainstreaming into all areas of concern of SAARC;

(v)   To explore the possibilities of developing a multilateral framework for the protection of the welfare and livelihood of South Asian people, and addressing concerns related to hunger and poverty;

6.2. To the SAARC Parliamentarians:

(i)     To interact periodically through the ‘Conclave of SAARC Parliamentarians’, and among others, initiate explicit oversight mechanisms towards the effective promotion and protection of human rights, thereby ensuring the full implementation of the SAARC Social Charter and SAARC Charter of Democracy;

6.3. To the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) of South Asia:

(i)     To maintain their biannual meetings addressing common human rights issues and concerns, including cross-border human rights violations through concerted efforts towards finding remedies, and exploring the role of NHRIs, in consultation with civil society, in South Asia to develop a common regional human rights mechanism as an additional means of protecting human rights in the region;

6.4. To the South Asian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs):

(i)     To remain committed to setting up a sub-regional human rights mechanism through continuous engagement with governments and other civil society organizations and networks including the People’s SAARC within the framework of a common vision, paying close attention to the forthcoming 17th SAARC Summit November 2011;

6.5. To the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):

(i)     To provide necessary technical support and cooperation to the initiatives undertaken by governments, NHRIs and NGOs towards a sub-regional human rights mechanism in South Asia.