SAARC Human Rights Report 2006 covering the events of 2005 is the first such report by any organisation or institution in the South Asian sub-region. It also indexes human rights records of the member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Indexing human rights records of the governments is a controversial exercise as there are no foolproof or universally acceptable yardsticks to measure the records. Human rights activism follows the dictum that each and every violation of human rights deserves equal attention, condemnation and measures must be taken to prevent its occurrence. Many independent national civil society groups also feel that human rights record of their government is the worst. On the contrary, the governments are also known for defending their human rights records and some governments like Bhutan even dare to conjure up "Gross National Happiness" to beguile the international community on the absolute denial of rights.
Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) does not believe that indexing of human rights records of all members of the United Nations is possible because of the complexities, lack of verifiable data and different systems of governance and administration of justice.
But, is it possible to index human rights records of the member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a non performing sub-regional inter-governmental organisation? How does one index three illiberal democracies - India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? Is there any difference between the quasi-military dictatorship of President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and the dictatorship of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who has been the only Presidential candidate of Maldives since 1978? On the surface, the rule of absolute monarchy of Bhutan might have appeared to be better than despotic rule of King Gyanendra of Nepal; but beneath the surface, absolute denial of many rights reigned in Bhutan. Afghanistan joined SAARC only in November 2005. With its security dependent on the authorities in Brussels and Washington DC without any mechanism for establishing accountability for the multi-national forces, Afghanistan could not be considered for indexing.
Governments across the world respond the similar way to the security challenges i.e. take draconian measures which violate human rights and the rule of law. The measures taken by the governments in the post September 11th period vouch it. Ultimately, it is the existence of institutional checks and balances and patterns of human rights violations in a particular year which make indexing of human rights records of the governments at sub-regional level possible.
ACHR's SAARC Human Rights Violators Index 2006 is based on the analysis of the incidents and patterns of human rights violations collated, collected and documented by it. Certainly, such an indexing exercise has its flaws because of the inability to collect accurate data on each and every case of human rights violations in the region. It must however be pointed out that no government or organisation has the capacity or systems in place to collect disaggregated data on all incidents of human rights violations. Nor is it possible to index economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs) which are gradually realised by the States. However, outright violations of the ESCRs can be monitored. Inability to report on the outright violations of the ESCRs remains one of the shortcomings of this report.
The SAARC Human Rights Report 2006 is intended to increase awareness on the state of human rights in South Asia. If nothing else, the report shall remain an exercise of the right to dissent and freedom of opinion.