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SAARC must set up a human rights mechanism in South Asia

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np_saarc.jpgThe recent
First Sub-regional Workshop on a South Asian Human Rights Mechanism
hosted by FORUM-ASIA was the latest effort by civil society groups to
establish a regional human rights mechanism in South Asia.
np_saarc.jpg(Kathmandu, 26 March 2010) The recent First Sub-regional Workshop on a South Asian Human Rights Mechanism hosted by FORUM-ASIA was the latest effort by civil society groups to establish a regional human rights mechanism in South Asia.

Held at the Everest Hotel in Kathmandu on March 24-25, 70 representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and people's movements from across Asia endorsed the Kathmandu Declaration 2010 and presented it to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

He has expressed a commitment to raise the issue of regional human rights mechansim in the forthcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Thimpu,Bhutan shceduled to be held on 28-29 April 2010.

Presentation of the workshop's outcome document to the Prime Minister was part of a larger strategy by activists to lobby governments with the idea of a regional human rights mechanism to be administered by the SAARC.

Nepal's Minsiter of Home Affairs Bhim Rawal inaugurated the workshop and said that it "can contribute to the development of ideas to further increase the joint and coordinate efforts to promote the idea itself and to encourage and lobby the member states in South Asia."

The event was co-hosted by Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a leading human rights NGO and a FORUM-ASIA member in Nepal.

During their presentations, Rory Mungoven and Richard Bennet from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) cautioned that any regional movement must be ready for a long battle in its quest to address human rights through an intergovernmental body.

Discussion also included leading human rights defenders from across South Asia such as Raj Kumar, Tapan Bose, and Sushil Pyakurel . These sessions produced a fruitful and meaningful dialogue towards the idea of a regional mechanism.

The participants conceded that while State-level engagement is essential, the grass roots must play a leading role in both the formulation and the implementation of any regional human rights mechanism. Delegates agreed that one of the challenges civil society organisations face in South Asia is a lack of coordination and solidarity support among NGOs which needed to be addressed not only for a mechanism to take shape and be effective but for human rights in general to gain the respect it deserves in the world's most populated sub-region.

Comparisons with the positive developments of civil society movements in Southeast Asia in convincing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt its regional mechanism, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), shed light on many of the strengths that South Asia has that the ASEAN member countries did not.

Many participants expressed South Asia's common history, cultural similarities, common human rights issues, a strong history of civil society movements, and the fact that all South Asian countries are, at least in principle, democratic, as significant reasons for optimism in the journey for stronger regional solidarity.

The Kathmandu Declaration 2010 makes a commitment to hold SAARC accountable to its conventions and Charter. A yet-to-be determined working group will use the declaration as the basis from which to devise its advocacy, a process that will continue at the upcoming intergovernmental meeting of the Asia Pacific Framework on Regional Arrangement on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to be held in Bangkok April 21-23.