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SAARC: Cooperation needed to prioritize dealing with human rights violations

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saarc.jpgOn the 23rd anniversary of the founding of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), FORUM-ASIA along with its 42 member organisations across Asia calls on South Asian governments to respect, protect and promote human rights of all.

FORUM-ASIA calls for a more participatory regionalism where civil society groups who represent the diversity of South Asia are included in consultations and their inputs are reflected in outcome documents.

FORUM-ASIA strongly demands that SAARC member states strengthen their national human rights institutions, ensuring both their independence and their effectiveness, in order to combat human rights violations and provide protection for vulnerable groups.

On 8 December of every year, SAARC member countries celebrate the founding of the body and the SAARC Charter. The main goals outlined in the Charter include the promotion of the welfare and quality of life of the people of South Asia; the acceleration of economic growth, social progress and cultural development; development of regional self-reliance and; collaboration on technical, economic, and scientific fields.

For 23 years now, state-led regionalism in South Asia has sought to prioritise economic integration at the expense of the human rights and dignity of people living in the South Asia sub-region, specifically refugees, indigenous peoples, Dalits, and the landless as well as those women and children who, under the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating the Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution, have suffered due to the lack of strong provisions to protect them against human rights violations.

South Asia is one of the last regions in the world to establish a human rights body or standard that can provide protection and reparation against human rights violations which are not adequately addressed at the national level.

SAARC is one of the last regional inter-governmental bodies to formally address human rights issues and violations in a collective and cooperative manner.

In a year where South Asian countries have taken historic strides for democratic transitions, marked by Bhutan's first ever elections, end of insurgency and the formation of Nepal's constituent assembly and democratic government in April, the first multiparty presidential elections in the Maldives that ousted Asia's longest-serving leader in October and Bangladesh's upcoming elections at the end of December which seeks to end two years of emergency rule as well as Pakistan's transition to democracy also after a period of emergency, there is a sense positivity and determination to move forward from a difficult past into a more just and equitable society.

However, unless SAARC member states cooperate on human rights concerns and prioritize tackling human rights violations as one of their main goals, peace, security and economic growth can never bee fully realized.