The Regional Office will cover countries in the South and West Asia region, including: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
The South and West Asia subregion hosts a diverse set of human rights opportunities and challenges. Countries like Afghanistan and Nepal are in the midst of post-conflict transitions but face significant problems of insecurity, exclusion and lack of transitional justice. Democratic institutions and the rule of law are on the brink of reform in Bangladesh and the Maldives. Conflicts persist in several countries, including Afghanistan, regions of India and Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, with resulting human rights violations and displacement.
Well-established legal systems exist, but implementation and enforcement of the law is weak, and impunity is still a problem. The barriers against accessing the justice system are formidable for many people, reflecting the impact of social and religious traditions on women and other groups. Poverty is at the root of many human rights violations and contributes to specific problems, such as child exploitation and human trafficking. Throughout the region, there are thriving and active civil societies and media actors playing an important role in human rights and other social issues.
The Office will focus its work on the priority themes selected for the region, particularly the need to strengthen national institutions and combat discrimination. South Asian countries have well-established legal systems and normative frameworks to protect human rights, but gaps in capacity, security and commitment limit implementation. In India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, national institutions play an important role, and there are prospects for new institutions to emerge in other countries in the subregion. There are also many specialized commissions throughout the region that focus on the rights of women, children, castes and minorities.
To initiate closer engagement with countries of the subregion, the Regional Office will, in its initial phase, focus on establishing bilateral cooperation with countries in which OHCHR has no presence: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and the Isalamic Republic of Iran. As part of its development phase, the Office will identify relevant thematic priorities in consultation with Member States, national human rights institutions, civil society actors and UN Country Teams.
The South and West Asia Office will also be ideally placed to initiate discussions on the possible establishment of a regional human rights mechanism for Asia and the Pacific. In this context, it will consult closely with regional actors, particularly SAARC, on possible avenues for cooperation in the field of human rights. SAARC has already adopted a Social Charter and specialized conventions on trafficking, and women and children. Other opportunities may arise in connection with the development of a new subregional human rights mechanism by ASEAN. The Office will also raise awareness about issues of common concern by releasing thematic reports and statements.
OHCHR will build partnerships to develop activities and programmes to address regional human rights challenges with other UN agencies, UN Country Teams, national institutions and regional organizations. It will encourage sharing experiences and best practices in the area of human rights, particularly regarding impunity, weak institutions and discrimination.
The Office will promote greater engagement with special procedures through referral of individual complaints and mandate-holder visits. It will advocate for treaty ratification, reporting and follow-up, and will assist Member States, national human rights institutions, civil society and UN Country Teams in their preparations for the Universal Periodic Review.