Activists: Human rights situation worsening in South Asia

Activists from across South Asia have expressed concern over what they called the deteriorating human rights situation in the region, amidst growing majoritarian authoritarianism and a rise in discrimination on basis of religious and ethnic identities.

They urged governments in the region to ensure establishment and strengthening of national human rights institutions and support the development of a dedicated regional human rights institution, says a press release.

The remarks came in a discussion titled “Human Rights and Equality in South Asia: Growing Up, Growing Together” that was organized by the South Asia Peace Action Network, or Sapan on December 26. 

The speakers were from countries including Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the diaspora, endorsing the Sapan declaration on human rights. 

The event drew attention to the commitments enshrined in the Saarc charter in relation to human rights and the right to development. 

The Sapan declaration also urged the development of robust regional human rights mechanisms and a dedicated regional human rights institution. 

Rights activist Khushi Kabir said: “Our nations are mostly totalitarian or on the verge of becoming totalitarian, enabled by a culture of impunity countries across South Asia.

“Where democracy exists, it is floundering in many ways… Religion is being used as a tool for creating ‘the other’”, she added.

Speakers questioned these tendencies and underscored the need to sustain and promote responsible adult behaviour that accepts differences and celebrates diversity, finding convergences and building solidarities along the way.

Violence in the name of religion has been visible in many other instances around the region without adequate action being taken by the state institutions. 

Afghan activist Zahra Hussaini shared her experiences and work in Bamiyan and Kabul. She talked about the grave human rights situation prevailing in Afghanistan today, particularly in relation to women, children, and journalists. 

Sri Lankan activist Subha Wijesiriwardena placed the human rights situation of her country in context of similar issues and concerns in nearly all South Asian nations. 

Indian lawyer Lara Jesani spoke about repressive draconian laws and the shrinking democratic spaces in India. 

Pakistani activist Ammar Ali Jan said that peace activists and human rights activists can only offer solidarity to comrades in the region, while holding their own governments accountable. 

Nepali activist Nirupama Ghimire spoke about the human rights situation in Nepal, and the growing role of social media in activism. 

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