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SAARC and the case for regional human rights
Posted:Jul 24, 2017
 
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By Jamil Junejo
 
Regional human rights mechanisms have internationally established their need and legitimacy. Their role in the promotion and protection of human rights is now widely recognised given their proximity and accessibility to the people and their synchronisation with regional human rights considerations in addition to their adherence to universal human rights norms. Realising such significance of regional human rights systems, all the worlds’ regional organisations except South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have established regional human rights mechanisms.
 
Since the existing regional human rights mechanisms are formed into different political, geographical and historical contexts and have different conditions to operate within. They possess different profiles regarding promotion and protection of human rights in their respective regions. European human rights system can be called well-established and relatively more efficient. The Inter-African and ASEAN human rights systems are into their formative phases. Whereas, Arab Human rights system is a newly created body with no significant credit into its account so far.
 
What worries is that, South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the only regional organisation which does not have regional human rights system. This is despite the fact that human rights violations manifested into diverse gruesome forms such as torture, arbitrary detention, extra judicial killings, forced labour, child marriages are widespread in the region and the national level redressal mechanisms have either proved insufficient or have failed to provide remedies to the human rights victims. Thus, we need to have regional human rights at SAARC level which could protect human rights in the region.
 
Many writers are sceptical about the possible establishment of regional human rights system at SAARC level mainly because of three factors: conflict ridden Indo-Pak relations, nonexistence of human rights agenda in the SAARC Charter and Charter’s provision of non interference in the internal issues of the member states. However, based on the study of existing regional human rights mechanism, all such factors cannot be considered insurmountable obstacles behind the establishment of regional human rights system at the SAARC level. Similar to SAARC Charter, the African Union Charter carried principle of non-interference; however, the union successfully developed African regional human rights system. Association of Southeast Asian Nations which established ASEAN Regional Human Rights System have no human rights agenda in its founding ASEAN declaration. Likewise, Arab League which created Arab Human Rights System doesn’t even mention human rights in its founding charter. Despite this, these regional organisations have successfully formed the regional human rights systems. Further, the evolutionary process of the existing regional human rights systems also shows that regional human rights mechanisms could be developed within the political and diplomatic context marred with interstate conflicts such as between and India.
 
What actually is required is the political will at SAARC level which could be cultivated through the dynamic civic activism of South Asian civil society and support and exertion of the United Nations’ pressure on the South Asian states.
 
Visibly, civil society has also played significant role in the creation of all existing regional human rights systems. Contrary to this, civil society as a whole in South Asia has not taken serious and concrete efforts for the creation of the regional human rights system in the region.
 
Historically, United Nations have played a significant role in the creation of Arab, ASEAN and African human rights systems. However, such kind of support from United Nations with respect to the aspired regional human rights system at SAARC level is missing. Reality is that being a major global governance institution, it can wield its immense influence potentially making persuasive efforts in this regard. Given the importance of regional human rights systems and its role and responsibility in overall promotion and protection of human rights, UN should revisit its strategy and help in technical and diplomatic terms in the creation of regional human rights system at SAARC level.
 
SAARC should also realise that regional human rights system would be very useful to complement its human rights oriented treaties and charters which includes SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution adopted in 2002, SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia adopted in 2002, SAARC Social Charter signed in 2005.
 
 
To conclude, given the weak governance of human rights in SAARC regions and wide spread human rights violations, the region needs a regional human rights mechanism which could protect human rights and provide redressal mechanism to the victims failing to achieve justice from their national mechanism. Further, creating regional human rights system at the SAARC level is a possible dream which can be realised mainly by the strong and persistent efforts of civil society actors and United Nations resulting in the formation of political will within the SAARC countries
 
 
 
 
 
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