//Human rights approach deepens democracy: Gujral

Human rights approach deepens democracy: Gujral

"Mature democracies" should work towards this

COLOMBO: Deepening of democracies in a "politically backward" South Asia was critical to protection of minorities’ human rights, a forum of eminent citizens of the region said here on Wednesday.

The South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a non-governmental organisation led by former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, feels that the level of democracy across the region varied and even "mature democracies" had to work towards deepening the concept. "The human rights approach deepens democracy," Mr. Gujral said.

He, however, declined to comment on the status of the democracies in the region.

On religious tolerance, he said: "it is not perfect anywhere. There can be no true democratic life if tolerance and accommodation is not there."

On the functioning of SAARC, he said, "We have gone emotionally wrong," and that it was critical to recognise that "neighbours are more important than anyone else."

Asked whether SAARC’s ambit would have to be widened, he said: "Expansion on paper does not mean anything" and the regional body was still confronted with "several hiccups."

Asma Jehangir, co-chairperson from Pakistan, said: "South Asians deserve better," and "governments have to keep pace with people’s expectations.

The SAHR would soon send a team to Sri Lanka to study the minorities’ condition there.

She expressed the hope that the peace process would address the human rights concerns too.

The SAHR, which sent two missions to Nepal "since the subversion of the constitution," said it was "urgent to support the move for an immediate ceasefire between the government forces and the Maoists." It also sought immediate release of rights defenders and political leaders.

On the situation in the Maldives, the SAHR said it was "eager to work closely with the Maldivian civil society" during the current period of political reform.

The organisation expressed "serious concern over rising militancy" in Bangladesh and said it served "as a poor example to other South Asian countries."