On 24 and 25 March 2010 in Katmandu, many NGOs and peoples' movements held the first sub-regional workshop[i] with the aim of creating dynamics to implement South Asia Human Rights Mechanism trough the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)[ii]. But it is important to understand that this objective doesn't only involve the creation of a deeper cooperation among civil society actors of South Asia on the field of Human rights; it mostly raise the question of a sub-regional integration process for the eight states who are part of this association. And this is due to this second raison that such efficient mechanism will be difficult to implement by making call for this to the members stats that are not ready to sharing few of their sovereignty together in order to create sub-regional mechanisms that would be restrictive to them. It seems so that the best strategy to achieve this goal is to begin this process without involving members' stats directly.
According to the discussions that took place on Kathmandu, the will of implement sub-regional mechanism involve first of all the creation of a South Asia human right commission "with teeth" – that's means with a reel power of enquiry in the internal affairs of members state and with the ability to make those stats and their nationals accountable for human right violation. Unfortunately, this kind of mechanism suppose that members stats be agree to share a little bit of their states' sovereignty within the SAARC' institutions. An integration process that will remain difficult to put in place on a sub-regional political context still characterized by war – in Kashmir, for the water, for the delimitation of border lines,… - and the "big brother" behavior on the largest member state - India.
For those reasons, it seems to be impossible to create effective Human rights mechanism by asking more involvement from the members' states through the classical way of sub-regional treaties. Another integration strategy is so request. A strategy involving others actors who's hold a different working culture and who are able to build cheap but effective network thanks to the new technologies of communication. I want to talk about the NGOs and peoples' movements who are the only ones to have a true willing of building sub-regional Human right's mechanics in South Asia.
As a young European man - and world citizen, my political understanding is well influenced by the European Union integration process and I would like to propose to use here the same theoretical framework – the functionalism approach - that was use at the origin of this integration. The same European framework, but in the South Asian style!
The functionalism approach is a school of thought in international relations theory - represented in particular by David Mitrany - which studies the integration process of political spaces. This theory was using by the founding fathers of European Union - like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman – to increase the European integration process through the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which become later the European Economic Community (EEC) and finally the European Union (EU). In the functionalist theory, this is the technical requirements (not political) of a complex society that foster cooperation. In other words, problems that go beyond the borders of a nation-state, or abilities, lead mechanically to create suitable international or supranational institutions. In our case, Human Rights issues seem to be a good example of those transnational problematic. The functionalist theory also adopts a bottom-up perspective (from bottom to top): this means that the necessities of the grass-roots level lead to the creation of institutions at the top to meet those needs. For that reason, it focuses on aspects of "spillover effect" – in which an agreement on one issue lead to create new agreements on others connected issues in order to implement effectively the first agreement – and, by this way, tries to launch an integration process "by small step".
Basically, this theory was using in Europe to increase integration process among members states through economic treaties. I propose to use the same theoretical approach to launch an integration process between Human Right Institutions and activists of South Asia on a Human Right issue which can lead to the creation of sub-regional Human right institution through the SAARC.
In order to launch such process, and as many stakeholder have already say to the Kathmandu meeting, we need first of all to find an "entry point" into the SAARC – that means a common issue on which we will decide to work closely together and, by this way, learning to know better each other's and begin to create a true human right community in South Asia with his own practice and working culture in order to pressure the SAARC to create adequate institution to be effective on that issue. This issue should fulfill to three conditions: involving the SAARC countries due to an ongoing agreement, be a problem that occur on the eight members' states and doesn't look like an issue which could affect – on a first time – the sovereignty of member states. For this last reason, this issue should looking like a technical issues, or at least, not too much political.
So far, SAARC members' states have already sign and ratified three regional legal instruments linked with the Human rights issues – the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution; the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia and the Agreement on Establishing the SAARC food security Reserve. According to me, the issues that can be use easily as an "entry point" is the promotion of child welfare in south Asia, because it looks less political than the other ones – trafficking suppose conflict between states and the food security reserve can be seen as an issue related with the fight for natural resources between and among states.
Due to the existence of the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia, the NGOs and peoples' movements from South Asia will be able to work together on that issue and use the functionalism theory to create dynamics to implement South Asia Human Rights Mechanism through the SAARC. Let me try to clarify my thought:
1. The creation of a South Asian platform/forum for the promotion of child welfare in South Asia. thanks to internet (blogs, email,…), all NGOs and peoples' movement of the area will be able to sharing information and expertise, but also create coordinated action on the sub-regional level to make pressure on the members states. This process will contribute to create an effective network between human right activists of South Asia, develop a sub-regional culture of working on the Human right field and develop a better understanding of the regional situation for all the stakeholders.
2. The exchange and the meeting between Human right activists on this topic will create a strong network at the sub-regional level that the SAARC member's states are supposed to support. The article VIII of the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia says that the stats parties "may encourage and support the participation of non-governmental bodies including community-based organizations". I am not jurist – so it would be good to check the extent of this Article – but I think that this kind of text can be used by human defenders in order to do their job without any negative interference of member states.
3. The creation of a strong network of Human Rights activists on that topic will make them able to pressure SAARC member states to create institution to ensure child welfare on the sub-regional level. The article V, paragraph d. of the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia say that stats parties shall "strengthen the relevant SAARC bodies dealings with issues of child welfare to formulate and implement regional strategies and measures for prevention of inter-country abuse and exploitation of the child, including the trafficking of children for sexual, economic and others purposes". Moreover, this article enable Human right activists to enter in other Human right issues connected with the child welfare (begin of a spillover effect in which the achievement of one goal require to take actions on others ones) and allow them to rising this question on a trans-regional view – for the problem of trafficking.
4. Last, but not least: the (little step by little step ) strengthening of a SAARC bodies dealing with the specific issue of child welfare will more and more be involving in others Human right issues (spillover effect) and so become a stronger sub-regional Human right institution. This link between child welfare and the other Human right issues is already present in the article III, paragraph 1-A. of the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia in which is mentioned the "human rights and fundamental freedom".