Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Regional Human Rights Mechanism in SAARC: Possibilities and Challenges

Regional Human Rights Mechanism in SAARC: Possibilities and Challenges
                                                                                   -Dr.Lenin[i],Dr.Mohan Lal Panda[ii] and Shabana khan[iii]
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was created in 1985 as a socio-economic grouping with its main rationale to "promote the well-being" of the people of South Asia through regional cultural and economic cooperation. The hope was that greater regional cooperation would generate "mutual trust, understanding" and appreciation of one another's problems[iv].
SAARC has addressed several gender and child rights related issues through several agreements and common action plans. Such as SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution and SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child welfare in South Asia in SAARC. SAARC adopted these conventions as an effort to give complementarities to the international obligations that arose after becoming party to the international human rights treaties. SAARC treaties are focused more on cooperative activities than on the setting up of regional machinery to deliver justice.
Several agreements have also been signed on Food Security Resort and specific social issues, which require concerted and coordinated actions for the effective realization of their objectives. Similarly, other SAARC treaties also address some of the Human Right issues, but so far SAARC has not adopted any specific, detailed and uniform Human Rights Convention or Charter nor have they agreed to create any common Regional Institution or Mechanism to monitor adherence and implementation of various Human Rights Conventions, Charters and Treaties signed by the Member Countries or to provide redress to the victim of human rights abuses.[v]
The six countries of SAARC have National Human Rights Institutions[vi] and these NHRIs assemble at Asia Pacific Forum as Members.[vii]
Most of the SAARC countries have many cut crossing common problems such as torture, trafficking, the internally displaced due to conflicts, refugees, right over resources, urban shelter and demolition, livelihood, Violation against Women, death Penalty, and involuntary disappearances. But NHRIs are not coming at common platform for a common understanding on the Human Rights at SAARC level. NHRIs can monitor treaties and spotlight on the human rights issues in context of its new role in process of Human Rights Council of United Nations such as UPR.[viii] So, we will make demands on NHRIs Institution to come forward at SAARC level.
 OHCHR conduct meeting at Asia pacific level focusing on the human rights mechanism at regional sub regional level[ix], which provides option for advocacy at OHCHR level to engage the Government of SAARC for sub-regional human rights mechanism.
The South Asia People's Forum:" People's SAARC" held from January 15 to 17, 2005 brought together National and International social activists, intellectuals and secular and democrative forces interested in the preservation of the secular, pluralistic and democratic fabric of the South Asian society. The convention was organized by PVCHR, Wiros Lokh Institute, INSEC and LOKOJ.
This was a historical convention which resulted in creation of the "South Asian People's declaration"[x], which we aim to submit to the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit involving Heads of States of the seven South Asian countries that make up the SAARC, being held in February, 2005.Ongoing process of Peoples' SAARC make available a platform for peoples' struggle for SAARC human rights mechanism.
INSEC & Forum Asia organized "First historical Sub-Regional Workshop on South Asian Human Rights Mechanism", 24-25 March, 2010 in Kathmandu, Nepal[xi]. INSEC and FORUM Asia wrote letter to the Prime Minster of Nepal and also the delegation of the workshop met with him with a request for his role in the forthcoming SAARC Summit in Bhutan to bring the agenda of regional human rights mechanism in South Asia and exploring strategy for the dialogue and discussion to address the common human rights issues of the region. PVCHR sent the open letter on possibility for SAARC Human Rights Instruments to all parliamentarians, head of state and political parties[xii].President of Maldives subsequently called the SAARC for sub regional human rights mechanism at SAARC meeting at Bhutan[xiii].
In order to make SAARC more effective as a regional mechanism to combat impunity, promote basic rights of the peoples of the region, SAARC should reform from within to create a new mechanism. This body should be based on legal framework, a charter to guide whole body. The new mechanism should develop its identity as a part of the region by forging links with various institutions in the region dealing with issues of human rights and justice.
While the international community has been searching for ways to strengthen the machinery required to achieve practical realization of the rights enumerated in the 63-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to define a new generation of humankind's basic rights, regional initiatives in these directions have fared somewhat better. Article 37 of the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action, of which SAARC member states endorsed, reiterated the need to consider the possibility of establishing regional and sub-regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights where they do not already exist.
UN Human Rights Commission advocated for several times to explore the possibility of setting up "regional arrangements" in the form of an inter-governmental "regional machinery", possibly a regional human rights commission- to review the human rights situation and to provide redress where the national setting is unable or unwilling to deliver justice.
Most of the regional or sub-regional groupings in Europe, North America and Africa have appreciated the need to have common human rights treaties/conventions or codes and have officially constituted autonomous statutory forums to ensure their observance and enforcement. The European Community takes pride in its own charter of human rights and the working of its human rights court, whose rulings can override the verdicts of the highest national tribunals. The Americans have their charter and court and so have the African countries. Asia alone is the region without a consensus on shared human rights concepts and the means of guaranteeing their respect.
There has been step-by-step progress in terms of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region. Sub-regional initiatives endeavouring to provide some monitoring and/or redress beyond the national setting have become more visible such as establishment of ASEAN human rights body; and the presence of OHCHR in the Asia-Pacific region provides possibly a machinery to promote and promote human rights through cooperation and complementarily.
The sluggish progress in regional cooperation is not due to the SAARC institutional structure, but to the extremely difficult and acrimonious bilateral relations especially India and Pakistan with major concern on Kashmir issue. India performs as expansionist country and with the dominating behaviour its act as a big brother. 'Big Brother' behaviour of India and presence of communal fascism in South Asia are the key responsible factors for mistrust among the people of South Asia. Culture of impunity in the conflict zone area is another challenge in South Asia.
See Link:
End note:
 [i] Secretary General, PVCHR(Peoples 'Vigilance Committee on Human Rights)
[ii] Advisor,PVCHR
[iii] Member, management Committee,PVCHR

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