Opinion Article

SAARC and Human Rights

[TamilNet, Thursday, 31 July 2008, 01:23 GMT]
A SAARC 'Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms' of the people of the region based on the same model as that of the European Union, as well as a 'Regional Mechanism on Human Rights' may be a way to fight the so-called terrorism because such a convention with a regional mechanism to implement it will prevent the root causes for violence arising in the first place. Countries like Pakistan and India, the two big brothers of the region should do better than abetting the war machinery of Sri Lanka that kills its own citizens. Aspirations of the peoples cannot be put down by Human Rights violations and State Terrorism, says Columnist Koanaamalai Manraadiyaar.

The 15th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) is now taking place for 8 days from 27th July to 3rd August 2008. It is pertinent to reflect on this as 40 percent of the Worlds' poor and more than one-fifth of the population of the World live in this region.

Some of the World's worst dictatorial regimes are members of this group and it is taking place in Capital Colombo of Sri Lanka whose Human Rights record is at its lowest ebb. It is an irony that it should take place in a country, which has just lost its place in the apex Human Rights body of the world, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

The conference is taking place around the same time as the 25th anniversary of the pogrom of Tamils, the Black July of 1983. Although it is the turn of Maldives to stage the summit this year, Sri Lanka has volunteered to organise it.

It is to be noted that three Nobel peace prize winners, former U.S. President Carter, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and Latin American Adolfo Perez Esquivel issued statements on the eve of the election for the membership of the Human Rights Council recently, which were highly critical of Sri Lanka's Human Rights record.

This is a region where there are no regional mechanisms on Human Rights such as The European Court of Human Rights, The Inter American Commission on Human Rights or the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. The Asian Human Rights Commission is only an NGO.

Of the 8 countries namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, although Bangladesh is talking of a National Human Rights Commission for more than a decade, it is yet to be established. Further, it has no elected government right now, when this summit is taking place. It is also famous for its corrupt former Heads of States, the two Begums, who are just out of detention imposed by its Interim Government. Their official intelligence Service is said to be brutal.

Maldives, which is equally brutal in political intolerance, has an 'almost' life President in spite of its proclaimed democracy.

Nepal had its Monarchy and consequential anarchy until recently, when a democratically elected Government has been put in place by the people. The country is represented at SAARC summit by a caretaker Prime Minister amidst opposition from the Maoists.

Given the circumstances of the involvement of the armies of 40 countries in fighting an elusive enemy, it is needless to say that Afghanistan has become an international arena of Human Rights concerns.

The HRC in Pakistan is an NGO and not one constituted according to the Paris Principles. One need not say anything about the way dictatorial Army Generals ruled that country for long periods since their independence from the British.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is not only not based on the Paris Principles, it is also illegal as its members have not been appointed by the 'Constitutional Council' as per 17th amendment to the constitution. It has been appointed by the Sri Lankan President, which is not according to the Supreme law of the country, the Constitution. Its ineffiectiveness speaks for itself.

The region also has ISI of Pakistan and RAW of India, the intelligence services of the respective countries. A former Pakistan Ambassador in Sri Lanka accused RAW of masterminding the attempt on his life in the recent past in Colombo. Further India and Afghanistan (though indirectly) are accusing ISI of Pakistan for the recent bomb blast near the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan. Series of bomb blasts in many cities in India in the past has been blamed on ISI. So much for their regional cooperation.

The summit is going to cost a poor country like Sri Lanka (where the inflation rate is 30 percent) 2,800 Million Rupees, out of which 56 Million Rupees is going to be spent on a gala musical entertainment in a beach resort in the south while the common man is finding it difficult to have a simple meal a day. The plight of the people in the northeast of the country forcibly displaced due to bombing and shelling by the Government forces in utter disregard of the UN Guiding Principles on IDPs is pathetic. A supplementary budget has been moved in the Parliament recently for the expenditure to be incurred in hosting the SAARC conference.

The Sri Lankan President it is said is to call for launching a Southern Fund for combined anti-terrorism effort amongst the SAARC Countries. It is essential that first and foremost he should propose a 'South Asian Charter for Transparency and Good Governance'. The SAARC member countries should resolve to establish National Human Rights Commissions based on Paris Principles in all SAARC countries since the root cause for the so called 'Terrorism' is said to be 'poverty' amongst a large portion of people in many member countries like the southern parts of Nepal, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and the Northeastern states of India.

Continued state oppression or state terrorism in countries like Bangladesh, Maldives and former Nepal are belittled in Sri Lanka, where it has risen to unmanageable proportions under President Rajapaksa and his Brothers. The rebel movements have been forced to take up arms to face 'State Terrorism'.

A SAARC 'Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms' of the people of the region based on the same model as that of the European Union, as well as a 'Regional Mechanism on Human Rights' may be a way to fight the so-called terrorism because such a convention with a regional mechanism to implement it will prevent the root causes for violence arising in the first place. Further it is imperative in the present context that SAARC countries adopt a set of Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. We have lost too many Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in the recent past in countries like Sri Lanka.

Countries like Pakistan and India, the two big brothers of the region should do better than abetting the war machinery of Sri Lanka that kills its own citizens. Aspirations of the peoples cannot be put down by Human Rights violations and State Terrorism.


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