The South Asia Collective, expressing solidarity with the people of Afghanistan in this hour of unprecedented emergency, urges Taliban authorities, in control of the country, to abide by international law and protect the rights of Afghan people, regardless of their faith, gender, ethnicity, language or political affiliation. SAC urges regional countries to do more for Afghans fearing reprisal and destitution at home and who seek safety and security in neighbouring countries. SAC also calls on the international community to ramp up global efforts for urgent humanitarian relief for Afghans; continued provision of safe passage and resettlement options for those wanting to relocate; and putting pressure on Taliban authorities to abide by international norms and protect the rights and freedoms of all Afghans, including women, children and minorities.

The world watches in dismay as the prospect for Afghan citizens in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan looks increasingly dismal with every passing day. Taliban forces have been reported going door to door in search of Afghans that worked with foreign governments. Credible reports claim that such persons are being threatened to hand themselves in or face the consequence of Taliban arresting and punishing their family members. Human Rights Defenders, including minority and women HRDs, journalists and artists are reported being on Taliban blacklist, and fears of mass executions have been expressed. Civilians who have, against all odds, protested against the Islamist group in Kabul and other towns, have reportedly suffered casualties. And Afghan women fear the worst – given the experience of Taliban’s previous stint in power that saw widespread abuses, including banning women from workforce and girls from schools, besides shutting out other basic freedoms. All accounts point to Afghan women being deeply worried about their safety, their rights and their protection in a future Afghanistan. It is this desperation, among others, that is behind the heartbreaking scenes at Kabul airport since the Taliban takeover some two weeks ago, of families handing their infants over to troops, women screaming, seeking help from anyone that would save them, and youth desperately clinging on to aircrafts in the hope of escaping what is to come.

The suicide bombing outside Kabul airport on 26th August that left at least 79 civilians dead and over 120 wounded, has rapidly increased anxieties, as has counter measures by foreign forces that have reportedly resulted in civilian casualties, including children. With the window for those hoping to be evacuated closing after Kabul Airport ceased operations, and uncertainty, in the from of an acute humanitarian crisis looming large (with  over 570,000 IDPs added just this year, 80% being women and children; 14 million persons reported facing food insecurity; and some 72 % of the population living under Poverty Line), UN agencies fear an unprecedented number of Afghans will be forced to flee their homeland, in search of safety and a life, taking any route that is open. The hardship for millions of Afghans, inside and outside their country, has only begun, yet again!

In light of these desperate developments in our neighbourhood, the South Asia Collective of regional human rights experts and activists, calls on:

Taliban authorities to:

  • Abide by international law and protect the rights of Afghan people, regardless of faith, gender, ethnicity, language or political affiliation.
  • Respect universal human rights and humanitarian principles and take actions to protect the lives of Afghan people, particularly the vulnerable among them, including women and girls, children, persons with disability, elderly people, displaced persons, minorities, internally displaced and refugees, and migrant workers
  • Ensure access to education girls and employment for women, without any discrimination.
  • Create enabling environment for human rights, freedom and liberty of people and open space for media and CSOs to freely run their activities.
  • Allow foreign aid agencies, humanitarian groups and NGOs, including those working to protect and promote human rights and rights of marginalised groups, including minorities and women, among others, to work freely in Afghanistan.

Regional governments to:

  • Facilitate the passage of Afghans fearing reprisal and destitution at home, and who seek safety and security in neighbouring countries, including through generous provision of visas, asylum and refugees status, with rights per international norms and standards
  • SAARC to take active role in facilitating regional cooperation for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, and to ensure life and security of Afghan people, especially the most vulnerable

The international community – including UN, foreign governments and international civil society – to:

  • Continue provision of emergency evacuation, relocation and resettlement for Afghans under threat, including HRDs, minority and women leaders, and journalists
  • Rapidly enhance global efforts for urgent humanitarian relief for Afghans – including for food, medical needs, education and livelihoods, especially for the most needy, both in-country, as well as refugees heading to neighbouring countries
  • Provide greater support – through existing state institutions or civil support means – for provision of health, education and sustainable livelihoods, including outside capital Kabul and large urban centres
  • Pledge support to Afghan, regional and international CSOs and development NGO, for humanitarian support and to protect life and freedoms of Afghan people – especially those working for minority and vulnerable sections.
  • Continue efforts for systematic monitoring and tracking of the human rights of Afghans – particularly its most vulnerable sections, including religious minorities, women, children and youth – and keeping up the visibility of the situation of human rights in Afghanistan
  • Put pressure on Taliban authorities to abide by international norms and protect the rights and freedoms of all Afghans, including women, minorities, and other vulnerable sections.

Members of the South Asia Collective include:

WE, who are members of the South Asian Community, are deeply disturbed by the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, and the impact that it will have on India’s well-established commitment to diversity and pluralism,  and to India’s constitutional tradition that has prioritised secularism, non-discrimination, equality  and social justice.

These traditions have kept India united and contributed to social cohesion. They were upheld as exemplars to us in the region as well as globally.

This law undermines these achievements that were built over several decades. It singles out religious persecution over other forms of persecution as warranting special treatment, thereby ignoring gender, ethnicity, caste, birth, and race (among others) that have been, and continue to be markers leading to persecution.  Furthermore, it privileges specified religious groups over other faith groups in similar circumstances. Its focus of attention is on the specified religious minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan only and demonstrates a disinterest in other SAARC countries such as Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, with whom India has historical ties.

The law does not recognise that some Muslim sects and atheists are subjected to persecution in countries where they are a minority, and even in countries where they are a majority sectarian differences have led to persecution. By resolutely excluding Muslims from the list of persecuted religious adherents, the law presents as discriminating on religious grounds and specifically discriminating against Muslims. 

When read in conjunction with the populist rhetoric endorsing concepts of Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra and Akhand Bharat, and the angst caused by the exclusion of names from the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the intent to undermine and dilute the Muslim presence in India through this Act is feared.

While it is to be applauded that India is providing an expedited pathway to citizenship for persecuted minorities through the CAA 2019, we urge that:

  • The two-track discriminatory process of naturalisation for undocumented migrants based on religion is repealed;
  • A transparent and well-understood process for registering citizens is established;
  • A fair process to appeal exclusion from the National Register of Citizens is established.;
  • International instruments – i.e. UN Refugee convention (1951) and UN Stateless Convention (1954) are ratified;
  •  A non- discriminatory refugee law is passed.

Such approaches will reassure all disadvantaged communities within India’s borders and in the region that they can continue to look upon India to uphold these special values.

On behalf of SAC members, including:

 ●      Development & Justice Initiative (DAJI), New Delhi
●     Law & Society Trust (LST), Colombo                                  ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      Self-Help Association for Rural People through Education & Entrepreneurship (SHAREE), Dhaka ●      John Dayal, New Delhi
●      Muhammed Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Sahar Ahmed, Dublin

The South Asia Collective (SAC) welcomes the opening of the historic Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan. The SAC, a collective of South Asian human rights activists and civil society organisations, believes that the opening of the Corridor is an important step in the right direction to realise their own dream of a peaceful and caring South Asia. 

As the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, Kartarpur holds a special place in the hearts of Sikhs across the world, including 24 million in neighbouring India. However, over seven decades of distrust between India and Pakistan following the bloody Partition of 1947 had denied the Sikhs the right to visit one of the holiest sites in their religion. Just days ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the governments of India and Pakistan have come together and made this possible once again.

The Corridor, a 9 km stretch that connects the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Narowal district to the Dera Baba Sahib in India’s Gurdaspur district, will, for the first time in the two nations’ independent history, allow around 5000 Sikh devotees to visit the holy shrine every day without a visa. The inaugural batch of visitors will be formally seen off by the Indian prime minister on one side, and received by the Pakistani prime minister on the other. On a day that marks a clear departure from a time when the Sikhs were forced to depend on binoculars and telescopes to catch a clear glimpse of the shrine, Indians and Pakistanis of all faiths have reason to share in their joy. 

It is not lost on us that this positive development has come at a time when relations between the two nations are perhaps at the lowest in decades. Religious minorities, including Sikhs, continue to face discrimination in both India and Pakistan. There are accusations of sinister political machinations being the reason behind the endeavour. However, the Corridor remains a rare example of the governments of the two countries prioritising centuries-old shared history over an arbitrary border that was drawn only 72 years ago. At the very least, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is a testament to what is possible if Indians and Pakistanis come together. As such, it is an occasion on which even the skeptics are allowed to hope.

The governments of India and Pakistan both deserve commendations, but it is imperative that this event marks an end to recent tensions that have had adverse ramifications across the region. All measures that restrict people-to-people relations must be rolled back immediately, and state actors in both nations must agree to resume formal talks in good faith. Only then can the dream of lasting peace in South Asia become a reality.

On behalf of SAC members, including:

●      Formation, Awareness & Community Empowerment Society (FACES) Pakistan, Lahore
●      Nagorik Uddyog, Dhaka ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      Self-Help Association for Rural people through Education & Entrepreneurship (SHAREE), Dhaka ●      John Dayal, New Delhi
●      Muhammed Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Sahar Ahmed, Dublin

The South Asia Collective is a group of human rights activists and organisations that envisions a peaceful and progressive South Asia, where the rights of all human beings, particularly those belonging to minority communities, are fully protected and respected.

The SAC stands in solidarity with Ms. Priya Saha as she faces criticism from various quarters over the remarks she made during an interaction with US President Donald Trump on the 17th of July. We are appalled by suggestions from various parties in positions of power that Ms. Saha’s public airing of her personal concerns in an international setting is tantamount to sedition against the Bangladeshi state. We are also dismayed by the vicious nature of the personal attacks that have been made against Ms. Saha, and those that have been extended against the Bangladeshi Hindu community as a whole.

The use of state machinery to muzzle dissent and perpetuate an atmosphere of fear in which human rights defenders are unable or unwilling to speak up has become a disturbingly common phenomenon in countries across South Asia. The threat of sedition charges is becoming a particularly potent weapon in the region to silence critics and dissenters, and has played a significant role in the continued weakening of democratic values in the region. The raids at the offices of senior lawyers Indra Jaising and Anand Grover, the registering of First Information Reports against Muslim ‘Miya’ poets in Assam speaking out against systematic discrimination against the community, and the enhanced muzzling of press and registering of sedition charges against civil society groups in Kashmir, are all recent examples of this disturbing trend in India. These are a continuation of past trends with registering of cases against Teesta Setalvad and Kanhaiya Kumar among other activists. Likewise, in Pakistan, the family of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail has recently been hounded with cases of sedition, defaming state institutions, and terror finance. Gulalai herself has been forced into hiding. This is in addition to several Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement activists who have been booked for sedition. Similar cases have been reported from the rest of the region.

The people of Bangladesh gave to themselves a Constitution that declared democracy and secularism as two of the fundamental principles upon which the republic would be built. The freedom to speak out and hold the state accountable is one of the hallmarks of any functioning democracy, and this should be protected under all circumstances. It is deeply troubling to see Bangladesh potentially travelling further down the path of intolerance and repression.

Ms. Saha is a human rights activist whose concerted efforts to provide support to disempowered minorities in Bangladesh have touched many lives. Her critics are advised to listen to her concerns and engage her in constructive debate, instead of attempting to browbeat her into silence. The merits and demerits of her argument and evidence may be up for questioning, but it is the duty of the Bangladeshi state to ensure her physical and mental well-being in the face of targeted harassment. Her safety – and the safety of other human rights defenders like her across the region – is of paramount importance for the deepening of freedom and democracy in South Asia.

The SAC reiterates that religious persecution remains an everyday reality for minority groups across the region. Attempts to silence civil society actors are completely counterproductive to the efforts to build a fairer and more equitable South Asia, where human rights should be sacrosanct regardless of religion, caste, creed, gender or ethnicity.

On behalf of SAC members, including:

 ●      Formation, Awareness & Community Empowerment Society (FACES) Pakistan, Lahore
●      Development & Justice Initiative (DAJI), New Delhi ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      Law and Society Trust (LST), Colombo ●      John Dayal, New Delhi
●      Muhammed Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Sahar Ahmed, Dublin

The South Asia Collective is a group of research and advocacy organisations from across South Asia, which aims to contribute for the protection of minority rights in the region and for the establishment of South Asia-wide minority rights standards, instruments and mechanisms. The group has focused on galvanizing the region’s civil society around minority rights protection and promotion.

The members of the group express their deep concerns in relation to the latest hostilities between India and Pakistan, the two largest countries in the region, both nuclear powers, particularly the various acts of violence perpetrated by both countries against each other over the past weeks which had the potential to spiral into full-fledged war. The clouds of war may have receded for now, but the risks are ever present. We urge both countries to exercise restraint in the interest of the people of the whole region, who would be the foremost victims of the unimaginable death and destruction as a result of a possible nuclear conflict. We welcome all efforts made by the respective leaderships of both countries for ensuring peace and hope that they will resolve their issues in the future by engaging in dialogue instead of resorting to violence.

We urge the leaders of both countries to ensure protection of minorities from hate speech and violence. Similar targeting of minorities wherever they occur elsewhere in the region – incidents have recently been reported from Bangladesh – too must be acted upon by respective leaders.

Lastly, we want to reiterate our vision of a peaceful and progressive South Asia, free from violence, and focused on the development of its inhabitants, where the rights of all human beings, particularly those belonging to minority communities, are fully protected and respected.

For the South Asia Collective:

●      Sahar Ahmed, Lahore/Dublin ●      Development and Justice Initiative, New Delhi
●      Elaine Alam, Lahore ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      John Dayal, New Delhi ●      Law & Society Trust, Colombo
●      Saroj K. Nepal, Thimpu ●      Nagorik Uddyog, Dhaka
●      Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Self-Help Association for Rural People through Education & Entrepreneurship (SHAREE), Dhaka