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Wednesday, January 09, 2013
From Print Edition
 
 

 

Following is the text of declaration of a conference arranged by South Asiac Free Media Association (Safma): -

 

We, the journalists from eight member countries of SAARC, having met at SAFMA’s 8th South Asian Free Media Conference on: “A vision for South Asia and union: Opening minds, opening borders”, in Amritsar on 6 January and Lahore on 8-9 January 2013, underlining the historical, cultural, social and economic ties across South Asian borders, and after having carried out exhaustive deliberations on various issues of great significance to our people, put forward the following views. We:

 

1) Express our dismay over the bottlenecks in the way of implementation of the 14 SAARC declarations on connectivity, 17 SAARC declarations on South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Thimpu Declaration on Environment and the agenda set by the SAARC Information Ministers Conference;

 

2) Are dismayed at the continued failure of the region’s states to address violations of basic rights and to further strengthen democratic institutions and processes;

 

3) Are deeply concerned at the rising wave of terrorism and religious extremism in various parts of South Asia - Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular - which spills over boundaries and is aimed at bringing neighbouring states into conflict with one another;

 

4) Are concerned about the variety of extreme religious, ethnic and communal/sectarian narratives that are dividing societies, peoples and the states;

 

5) Are deeply concerned that poverty and underdevelopment continue to plague the vast majority of citizens in South Asia to the extent that the region has some of the lowest human development indices in the world;

 

6) Appreciate the increasing interest in the idea of a vibrant South Asian community, South Asian union, and mutually beneficial cooperation as opposed to nationalistic and security-centric approaches that have kept the countries of South Asia from pursuing their common destiny;

 

7) Welcome trade liberalisation between Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan;

 

8) Condemn atrocities against women, minorities and children as represented by the attack on an icon of hope, Malala Yousafzai, the vicious rape and murder of a brave-heart in Delhi, and all such other instances across the region;

 

9) Take serious exception to attacks on the freedom of expression in various countries; attacks on and killing of journalists, social activists, and NGO workers engaged in the uplift of our people (such as vaccine campaign workers and teachers imparting education to girls and boys); and the ethnic/sectarian cleansing of minorities being witnessed across South Asia;

 

10) Condemn the killing of 23 journalists in South Asia - including 13 killings in Pakistan - and the culture of impunity that appears to have become a hallmark of the character of various actors in the countries of the region;

 

11) Welcome visa liberalisation between India and Pakistan, although it is still prohibitive and does not match the good examples of open borders practiced by Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka;

 

12) Are critical of the excessive commercialisation and sensationalism being exhibited by sections of the media, regardless of objectivity, neutrality, professionalism, and ethics;

 

13) Abhor hate speech in all its forms while rejecting restrictions on the freedom of expression and sources of information, such as the continuing ban on YouTube in Pakistan;

 

14) Appreciate the steps that some governments have taken to implement mechanisms to enable citizens’ right to information;

 

15) Are apprehensive about the possibilities of greater anarchy, sectarianism and internecine conflict spreading through the conflict-ridden regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan after the exit of ISAF from the former in the absence of a regional consensus.

 

We pledge to:

 

a) To promote and work for a dynamic, sustainable, peaceful, equitable people and environment-friendly South Asia with seamless borders and transnational connectivity through various means and at all levels;

 

b) Reject violence and extremism (religious, ethnic, and gender-based) in any form and adhere instead to a humane, tolerant, pluralist, democratic and progressive worldview as opposed to extremist and violent narratives;

 

c) Emphasise interfaith, interstate and inter-ethnic harmony while focusing on the emancipation and wellbeing of our people regardless of cast, creed and gender;

 

d) Adhere to freedom of expression, the right to know, and fundamental human and civil rights regardless of caste, religion, ethnicity and gender;

 

e) Uphold professional standards and media ethics while promoting the public interest and a journalism of peace.

 

We demand that:

 

1) All impediments in the way of the implementation of the recommendations of the 14th SAARC Summit on connectivity, 17th SAARC Summit on SAFTA and Thimpu SAARC declaration on Environment be removed;

 

2) All political, social, religious forces and institutions of the states take all possible measures at all levels to eradicate the scourge of terrorism/extremism without being selective and indulging in blame games in any form;

 

3) Political parties, civil society activists and religious entities thwart all attempts at spreading hatred on the basis of ideology, religion and ethnicity;

 

4) Member countries of SAARC develop a holistic, long-term vision for regional progress that also incorporates measures to mitigate the impact of climate change on South Asia;

 

5) Member countries of SAARC follow the timeframe set for the implementation of SAFTA and extending it to services, harmonization of macro-fiscal policies, setting of standards, harmonization of custom rules, building both physical hardware, such as ports, highways, communication lines and software, such as simple immigration procedures and harmonious customs regulations;

 

6) There be an end to all forms of discrimination and violence against women

 

7) The governments, media and civil societies protect the rights of children and minorities, especially girls’ right to education, and the rehabilitation of displaced communities with full rights to their ancestral places;

 

8) All the citizens of South Asia raise their voice in unison against killings of journalists, social activists and rights’ campaigners;

 

9) The killers of journalists be brought to book, their families duly compensated and those performing their duties in difficult environments be provided security and insurance coverage;

 

10) The governments of all SAARC countries grant journalists, writers, artists and academics two-year multiple entry visa while extending the scope of SAARC visa sticker;

 

11) Promoting tolerance, democratic values, social, human and political rights;

 

12) All South Asian governments act without delay to grant citizens the right to information;

 

13) All neighboring states of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, Iran, China, Central Asia and India reach a regional consensus in promoting peace and harmony in Afghanistan in a process that is led and owned by all Afghans and evolve a joint security mechanism to collectively fight the scourge of terrorism and extremism.

 

We, the delegates to the 8th SAFMA Conference, resolve to meet at our next meeting to be decided by the regional executive body of SAFMA.