Advocate Raj Kumar Siwakoti
Secretary General, FOHRID, Human Rights and Democratic Forum
Considering the various types of problems being faced by the people in South Asia, SAARC Social Charter has been approved for the improvement of the lives of the people in this region. Effective implementation of the Charter can ensure the protection of the rights of the disadvantaged, marginalized and the vulnerable groups. The provisions of the Charter has tried to address the problems being faced by the poor and the vulnerable groups such as women, children and youth. The governments of this region have reiterated their commitments already made in the international conventions and covenants for the wellbeing of the people in this region. Significant portion of the population in this region remain in vulnerable conditions and they are marginalized from the mainstream state system and development processes. Despite their repeated commitments in the past, the SA governments have failed to guarantee the rights of the significant number of needy people. The problem here is that due to lack of awareness of their rights, the needy people are even unable to claim their own rights. The SAARC Social Charter has been approved for implementation in this region considering the same situation.
The SAARC Social Charter is the primary document for the governments of South Asia to address the existing problems of sustainable livelihood, social and political participation being faced by the people of this region. The Charter has addressed the principal goal of the SAARC which aims "… to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia, to improve their quality of life, to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential." The document also accommodates human rights, humanity, welfare state, millennium development goals and so on. Therefore, it works as a roadmap for poverty alleviation, human security and governance, protection and promotion of human rights, health, education, human resource development and youth mobilization, promotion of the state of women, promotion of the rights and wellbeing of the child, promotion of stabilization for the South Asian governments. It has given high priority to the safety of the people from the vulnerability, security, peace and full democratic system. In this context, the current situation of its implementation in Nepal will be reviewed here. The review will concentrate to the overall provisions of the SAARC Social Charter from three different perspectives to cover the intention of the Charter. Existing situation in Nepal in respect to human security and governance, poverty and human rights will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
The concept of human security has come up basically as a counterpoint to the concept of "national security". It comes into widespread use internationally beginning 1994 when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) built its Human Development Report. According to the Commission on Human Security; human security means "protecting vital freedoms. It means protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations, building on their strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that give people the building blocks of survival, dignity and livelihood." In Kofi Annan's view, human security "…in its broadest sense, embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and healthcare and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential. Every step in this direction is also a step towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to inherit a healthy natural environment-these are the interrelated building blocks of human-and therefore national-security. In fact, there is resemblance in the view of Kofi Annan and the spirit of the SAARC Social Charter as described in the Article II, Principles, Goals and Objectives. The Principles, Goals and Objectives of the Charter have given high priority to address the concept of human security. The issues of human security and governance are very significant to achieve success to overcome the problem of sustainable livelihood and social and political participation of the marginalized community and the vulnerable groups.
The most serious obstacles to human security are, "firstly, threats to the security of individuals and their communities, in particular to the most vulnerable sectors of society; secondly, conflicts, threats and different kinds of violence (inter-State conflicts, breakdown of States, human rights violations, terrorism, organized crime etc.); and thirdly, poverty and economic exclusion . There is no doubt that poverty stands out as one of the biggest obstacles to human security. Poverty is closely linked to other obstacles. These are situations of economic insecurity framed in the context of generalized extreme poverty. Two key elements in the fight toward eradicating poverty are the setting up of markets that operate adequately, and the creation of institutions outside the market. A number of the reports suggest that the essential issues are a fair distribution of wealth and economic growth which will benefit people living in extreme poverty.
In the Nepalese context, obstacles to human security are unfavorable economic conditions, the social impact of economic crises, and natural disasters. Social policies which meet people's basic needs and guarantee minimum economic and social conditions are required if the people affected by the crises are to have real security or some way of escaping from poverty. More than three quarters of the Nepalese population do not have social security protection or do not have a guaranteed job. Another aspect is the different obstacles that are rooted in gender. It is vitally important that everyone should have access to land tenure and / or ownership, access to credit, education and housing, particularly in the case of poor women. The equitable distribution of resources is perceived as crucial for guaranteeing the means of life. Moreover, social protection measures and security networks can contribute to establishing minimum social and economic conditions for the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The main obstacle to human security in Nepal is poverty, with 38% of the population, or 9 million Nepalese, living below the poverty line. The absence of the rule of law, impunity and the resultant pattern of gross human rights violations are other factors that pose a threat to human security.
Election to the Constituent Assembly (CA) was held in April 2008 to institutionalize achievements of the second Jana Andolan of 2006 which succeeded with the overwhelming solidarity of the political parties and the general people. Nepalese people emphasize the need for democratic conditions, good governance and political security as per-requisites for human security. Human security is jeopardized by corruption, discrimination based on race, sex, ethnic origin, religion or political orientation, as well as political insecurity and the absence of democratic possibilities in Nepal.
Corruption and irregularities are widespread at all levels of government, and they exist under the patronage of ruling elites and ministers. Lawlessness and the rulers' arbitrary orders have often shattered the essence of the rule of law and have institutionalized dishonesty in all administrative units of the State. This has posed direct impact in ensuring uplift-ment of the vulnerable groups and the right to sustainable livelihood, social and political participation of the people.
Nowadays, corruption takes centre stage, lawlessness becomes the norm of governance and the financial resources of the State are channeled to the rulers and their cronies. This has been happening for many years, even during the so-called democratic era of the 1990s. As UNDP puts it, "poverty reduction policies and programmes" have fallen short of their aims and "basic social services" have been "inaccessible to large segments of the poor." "Public investments" have been rendered ineffective in "addressing poor people's needs." Rather, government institutions have often chosen to "exclude" the poor or "silence their voices." If corruption were not the order of the day, as argued "our country would have been able to provide good education, health care and drinking water from its own wealth of resources…" unfortunately, rampant corruption has been embedded in the governance system, crippling the already weak delivery of services which would otherwise give some relief to the needy.
Overcoming the threats to human security is a major challenge facing Nepal today. The reinstatement of democracy brought hopes that changes would occur in the governance system which would address the problems of poverty, discrimination and bad governance. Had that occurred, the problem of human security would have been to some extent resolved.
But the Government in the 2006s was not significantly different from the former regime. The term "democracy" was a mere slogan rather than a standard for political decision-making and implementation. The result is that poverty continued to increase, the situation of human rights violations worsened, corruption and dishonesty marred the concept of good governance and, as an effect of all this, a new problem-the under development-emerged. Nepal is now in a dire state, and so is human security. To ensure human security, Nepal needs to embrace inclusive, democratic governance that operates on the basis of the rule of law, with full and unconditional observance of human rights.
The governance becomes democratic if it is by the people and for the people. Inclusive democracy is necessary for this. It refers to the voluntary activities by which members of a society share in the selection of their rulers and, directly or indirectly, in the formation of public policy. The SAARC Social Charter has addressed the people's right to claim and express dignified livelihood, seek information, discussing and proselytizing, attending meetings, communicating with representatives, formal enrollment in a party, canvassing and registering voters, writing expression, working in campaigns, and competing for public in the perspective of social and political participation.
Through SAARC Social Charter, SAARC has provided an excellent opportunity for the formation of policies and programmes to the governments of this region. It can certainly contribute in the wellbeing of the people falling below the poverty line, facing social exclusion, marginalized communities and vulnerable groups. The implementation of the Charter has provided enough opportunity for the enabling, promotion and protection of the right to sustainable livelihood, social and political participation of the marginalized groups and the poor. The government of Nepal has adopted certain policies and practices regarding the issues reviewed above, i.e., human security and governance, poverty and human rights, but there is still a long way to go towards achieving the objectives of the SAARC Social Charter from the social security perspectives.
Nepal government has not given adequate importance to the implementation of the SAARC Social Charter nor any clear policy has been made in this regard so far. No specific programme has been prepared for the transformation of the living standard of the vulnerable groups. Although the government has prepared policy on human security and governance, poverty alleviation and protection and promotion of human rights, it has not adequately addressed the needs of the vulnerable groups. The government is required to immediately address the gaps and weaknesses seen in the way of implementation of the Charter.
SAARC Social Charter has been prepared as an effective tool to address the problems facing this region with guidelines to resolve them. It has emphasized the benefits of the people of this region. The State parties should take them for implementation at the highest level. Fulfillment of the obligations of the Charter by the States of this region can, of course, contribute to the overall development of the people in the region. Implementation of the Charter is also imperative for overcoming the increasing humanitarian crisis and to promote the issue of human security in this region. The State parties must immediately establish a National Coordination Committee or any appropriate national mechanism to oversee the implementation of the Charter. The State parties need to prepare National Plan of Action for the implementation of the Charter. The State parties should give due consideration to the provisions of the SAARC Social Charter in the process of their respective national policy formation. The State parties should establish effective network collectively to take initiatives against the problems in the areas of poverty, health, education, human resource development and youth mobilization, promotion of the state of women, promotion of the rights and wellbeing of the child, population stabilization and drug de-addiction, rehabilitation and reintegration etc. This will enable the enhancement and right to sustainable livelihood, social and political participation of the vulnerable groups. Establishment of this network will ensure easy exchange of information, experiences and resources. The SAARC Secretariat should facilitate the translation and dissemination of the SAARC Social Charter in the national/local languages of the region. The Secretariat should regularly monitor the implementation status of the Charter. The civil society in the region should raise effective voices for the implementation of the Charter. An effective network of the civil society should be established to create pressure at the national and regional level for the implementation of the Charter. The network can also work for the lobbying to this purpose and to create pressure on the SAARC Secretariat to work for the interest of the region.