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More linkages and cooperation in human rights, peace and people’s security needed in Asia; Bangladesh plays a vital role

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A firmer commitment to facilitate the convergence of civil society networks in Asia working on common issues was affirmed at the 5th General Forum of the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA), at the BRAC Center, Khagan, Savar, Dhaka, on 18-20 February 2011. The general forum discussed impunity, food sovereignty and peace and security concerns in the Asian region.

The Asia region is witness to the growing problem of impunity and gross violation of human rights, resulting in increased insecurity of its peoples. Many groups work and advocate on these issues, there is the challenge to harness these various energies to create a bigger voice and movement.

Bangladesh is in a unique position to help bring about greater linkages among not only South Asian countries, but also to build bridges towards Southeast Asia. An activist human rights Commissioner like Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chair of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission who keynoted the SAPA General Forum yesterday can inspire wonders among others in the region, and can enjoin those still without national human rights institutions to create one.

There is also the need of consolidated efforts among the civil society organizations of South Asia to engage with SAARC Chapter on Democracy and establishment of regional human rights mechanism.

Bold and innovative initiatives in food sovereignty, like those of UBINIG practiced in Tangail district can also serve as good examples for other provinces and other countries. Under the program, there is agreement to protect and perpetuate indigenous seeds and plant varieties, and protect the environment by refraining from using ground water for agriculture.

SAPA likewise joins the call for the release of all political prisoners, trade union activists and human rights defenders in the region. We are also deeply concerned of the erosion of human rights standards in many Asian countries that are taking place under broad rubric of national security and combating terrorism.

SAPA also takes note on increased intimidation of our host Odhikar by the state’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies. We are concerned at the withholding of permission by the NGO affairs Bureau under the Prime Minister’s office and the Home Ministry to new programmes of the organization.

The network commits to support and participate in regional processes that bring different groups together, like the People’s SAARC and the ASEAN People’s Forum, and vow to contribute towards the building of an Asian solidarity.

SAPA is a network of civil society organizations dedicated to enhancing the effectiveness and impact of advocacy by improving communication, cooperation and coordination among them, in the face of rapidly increasing and multiplying inter-governmental processes and initiatives in Asia. SAPA has thematic working groups on human rights, migration and labor, environment, peace and security, and rural development; working groups on ASEAN and South Asia; and a caucus on Northeast Asia. Campaigns and action are carried out through the working groups, and the general membership meets once a year in a general forum. In an effort to enhance links with South Asian movements, the network’s general forum has been done in the sub-region two years in a row; it was held in Kathmandu in 2010.The next general forum will be held in 2013.