SDW Declaration on Minorities Rights Conference

Dr. Qaisar Abbas was a catalyst in organizing the international conference on persecution of minorities
last January as president of the South Asia Democracy Watch. He has taught media courses and served
as administrator at several American universities. With a doctorate in Mass Communication from
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he contributes articles to online and print media as a free-lance
journalist, researcher and media analyst

Thematic conferences usually analyze issues and clarify related ambiguities but they rarely
propose solutions to resolve them. However, the international conference on minority rights in
South Asia held in Dallas on January 25 was different.

The conference “Human Rights Crisis in South Asia: Marginalization and Violence against
Minorities” organized by a nonprofit organization, South Asia Democracy Watch (SADeW), was
held at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas in collaboration with their Embrey
Human Rights Program.

Scholars from South Asia, Canada and United States not only analyzed legal, political and
economic systems that justify persecution of minorities, they also made recommendations to
governments, diplomats, activists and the diaspora to respect and protect minorities.
Scholars who discussed these issues were Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who was also the keynote
speaker, activist from California Krishanti Dharmaraj, civil rights attorney Amjad Mahmood
Khan, Islamic scholar Dr. Husnain Walji, journalist from Pakistan Allauddin Khanzada, sociologist
Dr. Raghu Singh, interfaith leader Peter Bhatti and director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights
Program Dr. Rick Helparine.

Based on the Conference recommendations the following “Declaration of Minority Rights in
South Asia” proposes strong measures at individual, national, regional and international levels
in the fields of education, assistance to victims of violence, interfaith dialogue and mass media:

INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
1. Citizens should be actively involved in public forums, public awareness campaigns and
grassroots activities to raise voices for equal rights and protection of minorities.

2. Concerned individuals should write letters to newspapers and public opinion leaders
protesting discriminations against minorities to keep the issues visible and vocal.

3. Immigrants abroad and citizens in South Asian countries should contact their elected
representatives to make awareness of minority rights everywhere and demand giving
equal rights to them legally, politically, socially and economically.

NATIONAL LEVEL
1. All countries in the region, especially those with a predominant religious or cultural
majority controlling economic and political powers should take serious measures to end
discrimination against religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic minorities including
Muslims, Hindus, Christians, the Untouchable, Dalits, Sikhs, Jains, Shiites, Ahmedis,
Buddhists and all other minorities.

2. Legal frameworks sometimes provide justifications to treat minorities as second rate
citizens. Constitutional provisions and laws should be modified to ensure equality for all
citizens without discrimination based on religion, ethnicities, gender and cultural
identities.

3. South Asian countries should strictly follow the Article 55(c) of the U.N. Charter and
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

4. South Asian countries should collaborate with all United Nations bodies including the
Office of the Higher Commissioner on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and the
ten treaty based committees created to protect and monitor human rights of women,
children, immigrant workers, people with disabilities, the disappeared and citizens who
have been target of torture. States should provide data, collaborate with UN
investigations and facilitate their visits.

5. All countries must continue to include women and minorities in its leadership and
decision-making especially in the areas of budgeting and finance, security and defense,
and foreign policy.

6. Some countries are falling ever faster into a state of chaos and bloody mayhem. While
the reasons are varied and ultimate cures can be debated, the need of the moment is to
prevent further deterioration. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to implement
short-term, immediate steps.

7. Military and government establishments need to have a zero-tolerance policy against
terrorism and not offer to negotiate from their current state of weakness and disarray.
This merely emboldens the terrorists who know that their acts of terrorism have paid
off.

8. Government and security agencies must stop aiding and arming groups which seek to
attack targets in other countries. The blowback from this policy is partly responsible for
terrorism directed against states, people and in particular religious minorities.

7. Religious sermons should be approved by a central government body. Those using
religious centers for spreading hatred against other sects, religions, or countries should
be punished and banned from using the platform of a worship place.

8. Many examples prove that religious and sectarian disputes are initially local in nature
and their prudent handling by administration can nip them in the bud.

9. There should be zero tolerance for violent sectarian groups and their leaders. Political
priorities should not bar leaders from taking a principled position against those who are
attacking innocent citizens and minorities.

REGIONAL LEVEL
1. South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) must support the creation of a
regional human rights charter and procedures that specifically address the rights of
religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic minorities including women, children, people
with disabilities and immigrants. The charter should articulate special measures to
protect those who are affected by armed conflict. The South Asian Charter on Human
Rights could follow the lead of the African Charter and American Charter on human
rights. Given the nature of conflicts in South Asia, a regional charter and an
implementation body could proactively reduce the threat of war and conflict in the
region.

2. South Asian states should allow cross border visits, collaboration and public awareness
activities of minority organizations.

INTERNATIONAL LEVEL
1. International communities should use their diplomatic and financial leverages to make
sure the aid and investments they provide should be used in an environment of
respecting minorities and protecting weaker segments of the society at large.

2. Specific conditions should be imposed when signing aid and funding agreements,
collaborative projects and memoranda of understanding between funding agencies and
countries to protect minority rights and end discrimination and violence against them.

3. Funding to those countries where minorities are target of discrimination and violence
should be provided with preconditions to take legal, political and economic measures to
protect religious, ethnic and racial minorities in these countries.

4. There is a large number of South Asian diaspora all over the world who are affluent
with a high income level. They also invest in their home countries for development
projects, social welfare programs and personal investments. These immigrants should
also demand measures to protect all minorities back home especially when they are
investing in public and private projects in their countries.

PLIGHT OF VICTIMS’ FAMILIES
1. A critical issue is the plight of the families of victims of violence by militants. After the
phase of outrage is over and the bodies buried, the widows and children face a
grim future having lost the breadwinner, especially in a patriarchal society where
families are economically dependent on the head of the family.

2. International NGOs and human rights organizations need to be made aware of the
severe plight of these families, who have nowhere to turn to for their daily basic needs.
Sometimes these young widows are sexually harassed by the very perpetrators of these
atrocities.
INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
1. Moderate religious scholars can play a significant role in educating people to raise
awareness of militancy creeping upon the young disenfranchised youth who are
recruited by militant groups.

2. Interaction and dialogue among religious scholars, students and teachers belonging to
all religious schools of thought and factions, should work collaboratively to remove
widespread misperceptions about religions and factions.

EDUCATION
1. School education is the backbone of building students’ character, promoting
coexistence, communal harmony, and high civic values at the early age. School
curriculum should be transformed to include values of peaceful coexistence, respecting
others’ religion and ethnicity, and valuing minorities.

2. School curriculum should be reviewed to exclude derogatory and inappropriate
comments or referring to minorities as second rate citizens from textbooks.

3. A large number of school dropouts work on the street to earn money for the survival of
their families. They are lured by religious schools that provide lodging, food, and
scholarships to these needy students. In return they brainwash them promoting
prejudice and hate against religious minorities. Alternate schools should be established
to educate these students and provide school diploma through fast track education programs. These students should be introduced to vocational institutions to be trained
in different career paths.
MASS MEDIA
1. Complexities and the extent of how minorities are persecuted in the region are not
always recognized by the masses. Planned PR campaigns are needed, using social media,
blogs and documentaries on the plight of minorities. This awareness of human rights will
help pressure authorities to look after its citizens and ease the trials and
tribulations upon minorities.

2. When covering incidents of discrimination or violence against minorities, media
sometimes take sides to further jeopardize minorities putting them in danger rather
than protecting them. Media organizations and press clubs should offer workshops and
seminars to reporters, editors and media managers on ethical boundaries, legal
structures and professional codes of conduct.

3. Journalism and mass communication departments at universities should modify their
curriculum and develop new courses to include legal, ethical and moral responsibilities
of editors, journalists, media manager and reporters.

4. Academic departments should offer short courses for journalists, reporters, media
personnel, media managers and editors on ethical boundaries, professional honesty and
social responsibilities of media organizations and personnel.

(The above Declaration is based on recommendations of the international conference
“Human Rights Crisis in South Asia: Marginalization and Violence against Minorities”
organized by the South Asia Democracy Watch on January 25, 2014 at Southern
Methodist University in Dallas, U.S.)