The South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) has urged the leaders attending the forthcoming 17th SAARC summit to strive for a democratic charter for the region and cited hostility between India and Pakistan as a key hurdle to better cooperation in the region.
In a statement ahead of the two-day South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that kicks off at Addu Atoll in the Maldives Nov 10, SAHR has called for better connectivity and sharing of resources to eliminate poverty and realize justice for the people.
It has pointed out that the long-standing hostility between India and Pakistan arising out of the effects of cross-border terrorism has prevented a cooperative approach to addressing violence by extremis groups.
"Instead, each has attacked the other for patronizing violent gangs and tried to gain influence over the smaller countries of South Asia," SAHR chairperson Hina Jilani of Pakistan and co-chairperson Nimalka Fernando of Sri Lanka. Their signed statement was released here Tuesday by Jatin Desai, a Bureau Member of SAHR from India.
While welcoming the dialogue between India and Pakistan, SAHR has expressed concerns over the heightened tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan patronizing militants and facilitating cross-border attacks.
SAHR added that the counter-terrorism strategies of the countries have often depended on illegal measures like custodial torture and preventive detention, contravening internal human and constitutional rights, and leading to human rights violations.
"People's protests for justice have been put down by brutal state force, human rights defenders are under threat, and NGOs and social workers have been obstructed from working with people," Jilani and Fernando said.
The statement added that poor governance has kept South Asia mired in poverty with inadequate opportunities for health care, education and employment, mainly on account of flawed development strategies which impede progress.
SAHR also urged leaders to consider issues like 'majoritarian politics,' conflicts within countries which have displaced vast numbers of people, land grabbing for constructing dams, exploiting natural resources and creating export processing zones, visa restrictions, insufficient transparency and accountability in the governance processes, and making the electoral process more inclusive.
It pointed out that in recent years there has been a growing demand from citizens for unity, tolerance and genuine participatory democracy. They also urged leaders to take concrete steps for reducing poverty, ending communal hostility, enabling freedom of movement within the region, gender equality, people-oriented and environment-friendly development and human rights, raised through activism at the national and regional levels.
Calling for "bold initiatives" by all countries in the region to adopt a problem-solving approach, SAHR said the SAARC must ensure that the progress and process of democracy is "not hijacked by short-sighted political or economic interets."