The Peoples' SAARC delegates assembled in Maldives have submitted the "Memorandum" to the 17th official SAARC Summit being held in Addu City through the office of the President of the Maldives.
The memorandum is a common aspiration primed by the representatives of various civil society organizations in the region who have created a parallel process called "Peoples' SAARC". The memorandum reflects the harsh reality in connection with the status of security, peace, justice, human rights, development, environment, refugees, migration, gender among others in South Asia region from peoples' perspective. The memorandum calls upon the SAARC as a regional grouping and the member states to seize the opportunity towards engaging themselves in serious dialogues for envisioning a region fit for over one fifth of the world's population, a majority of which is consistently denied of rights and deprived of basic standard of living.
The memorandum is a follows:
People's SAARC – A South Asian Civil Society Platform Presented to the 17th SAARC Summit,
Addu City, Maldives 10-11 November 2011
The seventeenth official SAARC Summit is taking place at a time when South Asian states are beginning to look inwards to realise the region's immense political, economic and diplomatic potentials. This is reflected in a number of initiatives undertaken by the SAARC countries to forge closer alliances to harness these potentials. The recent developments for the resolution of bilateral disputes between SAARC countries including India-Bangladesh, India-Pakistan, Afghanistan-Pakistan, are certainly encouraging and signal the SAARC states’ willingness to move beyond the age-old divisions to work with each other as regional partners for the growth and progress of the countries in engagement.
While the agenda of economic and social development might have moved up as a priority item for the SAARC countries, South Asian states, at the same time, continue to veer towards their aspirations for superior military might. This prompts them to scale up their military budget, diverting resources away from developmental goals, thereby compromising the basic living standards of a large section of the region’s population. A region that houses 23% of the total world population contributes less than 3 percent to the global GDP and houses 400 million of the world’s poor. As a region, South Asia can hardly afford to undertake projects that undermine the well-being and development of its people.
We, at the Peoples’ SAARC, a parallel process to the official SAARC aimed at presenting the South Asian civil societies’ collective voices on most pressing regional issues, have convened a series of country processes to evolve consensus on the future direction of the SAARC process, and consolidated the outcomes of these country processes into this regional Civil Society Memorandum which is forwarded to the official 17th SAARC Summit process for urgent consideration. We believe the SAARC process should be more pro-people and committed to eradication of poverty and injustices through regional developmental process.
Some Areas of Hope
- As the representative of the civil society of the South Asian states, the Peoples’ SAARC sees the official SAARC as a significant process to boost regional development. However, we do underline the need for SAARC to expand its ambit to cover all areas of political, environmental, economic and social spheres of the South Asian region. SAARC must also strengthen its structures to deliver on the aspirations for growth and progress of the people of South Asia.
- South Asia has recently registered substantial progress in democratic development. All eight SAARC countries: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan have elected representatives today. This is a positive development for a region that has come to assume an important position in the world’s efforts for global peace and development.
- We are encouraged to see the recent spate of developments in the bilateral relations of a number of South Asian states. These include the commitment for an extended bilateral cooperation along with improved trade ties between India and Bangladesh; the facilitation of overland transit to Nepal from Bangladesh; the restoration of the dialogue process between Pakistan and India – emphasised by the official machinery as serious and “uninterruptible”, the recent announcement by the two countries to work towards improved trade links, enhanced diplomatic support on a bilateral level at global forums; and the execution of the Afghan Transit Trade along with improved political links between Pakistan and Afghanistan, to name few.
- We also welcome the decision by the Government of Pakistan on granting the status of the Most Favoured Nation to India. The decision has wide-ranging benefits that cover both economic and social realms. Apart from the much desired normalisation of trade relations between the two countries, the GoP’s move shall hopefully also pave the way for facilitating greater people-to-people contact which shall contribute in bringing the two nations a few steps closer to the resolution of their outstanding disputes.
- The withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan – a process that is underway -marks the move towards the closing of a foreign imposed war in the region. The 'war against terror' brought endless miseries to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and also altered the dynamics of engagement between South Asian states, pushing the region unnecessarily to adopt a security posture that fuelled regional tensions and conflicts.
- We welcome the establishment and functioning of the SAARC University and emphasize that it must specialize on social issues relevant to the quality of life of the majority of our people such as: human rights, basic entitlements, sustainable development, secularism, fair trade, environmental justice and the like.
While there are some positive developments, the region is also bogged down by a series of actions, especially those taken by the states, and events, that bear negatively on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including right to life, right to equality and access to and control over basic services. These actions and events seek to hinder and thwart the realisation of the massive potential of the region as a democratic, progressive, economically developed, peaceful and stable society. We express our concern at these developments and point these out as follows to urge the SAARC body and the member governments to address them on a priority basis.
We, the members of social movements, civil society organizations, labour unions, peasant movements, academics, other working people’s organizations and women’s groups from across South Asia forward the following demands to the heads of the state meeting in Addu City in Maldives for the 17th SAARC Summit on Nov 10-11, 2011:
- We call for the South Asian states to recognize the universality of opportunity, and equality in rights and dignity of all people including so far excluded groups and minorities on the basis of ethnicity, gender and the physical/mental ability. Therefore, we urge the
- SAARC states to recognize the prevalence of patriarchy, masculinity, religious extremism and caste-based discrimination that deny human rights, human dignity, socio-economic and political equality, justice and peace to the millions of marginalised groups and classes, in the SAARC countries.
- We urge the governments to take essential steps to ensure that South Asia maintain its unique civilization strength of 'unity in diversity'.
- All our countries are suffering from the economic travails of neo-liberal economic policies with rampant poverty marginalising a large section of the population, especially women and the girl child. It is time that the member states develop new paradigms of peaceful, equitable, and sustainable paths of development that truly reflect the economic potential of our countries and meet the needs of the vulnerable section of the society such as children, the disabled, aged and all other marginalised groups.
- In all our countries full enjoyment of human rights has become a critical problem. Generally, the international Human Rights Instruments and Humanitarian Laws are never implemented, even if already ratified. This leads to the flagrant suppression of peoples' movements that challenge the state. All our states must respect universal human rights while managing and allocating resources, addressing internal conflicts or external inter¬state disputes and all spheres of national life.
- People’s movements to protect the forests, lands, the rivers, and other natural resources from which their livelihood is derived are often brutally repressed by the state. Peoples land is acquired for a relatively paltry sum in the name of development, and their rehabilitation is well below international standards. The states must devise a system of checks and balances for its elites who have repeatedly demonstrated the tendency to succumb to the lure of the powerful development giants. We call the SAARC governments to ensure development processes that must be pro-poor people, consultative and consensus driven with human rights as the basic fundamental.
- SAARC countries must ensure the rights of all workers, especially women and Dalit workers in accordance with international standards including ILO conventions, international covenants and national laws. The rights of indigenous people should be recognised, safeguarded and promoted.
- Fisher peoples’ rights to fish in territorial waters be recognized and legally protected through proper mechanisms. Innocent fisher folk incarcerated for wandering into neighbouring, sometimes disputed, territorial waters be immediately released and the presence of deep sea trawlers and foreign vessels should be banned as these are continuously depleting fish stock and pursuing an unsustainable path apart from severely diminishing the catch of the ordinary fisher folk.
- Climate change and ecological degradation have become a threat to the very survival of all life on the planet. Melting of snow in the Himalayas, desertification and sea level rise are the stark phenomena that South Asian states are facing simultaneously. Unfortunately, the South Asian governments have taken no urgent steps towards reversing ecological degradation, the reduction of greenhouse gases, adaptation initiatives, all necessitating more sustainable forms of transport, construction, workers and peasants conditions and mining among others. It is imperative that vast areas of Bangladesh, parts of India and island states in the Indian Ocean are not submerged because of a lack of commitment by the states to address environmental concerns.
- Increasing restrictions by the South Asian states on people-to-people dialogue are highly retrograde. The South Asian states must facilitate people-to-people contact and promote solidarity throughout the region to enable wider sections of the population to interact across countries and regions to explore possibilities of just, peaceful, sustainable and equitable path of development which is also gender just.
- There is a need for alternate regional trade and economic framework that meets the needs and aspirations of small and medium producers and labourers. The SAARC states need to work out fair trade relations within South Asia as a precondition for fair trade relations with the rest of the world. This would also provide a democratic alternative to exploitative and regressive free trade arrangements.
- The 'terror like acts' and 'war on terror' have been serious problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and recently in Sri Lanka. Where these movements involve alienation or deprivation of natural resources, there must be dialogue. We urge the South Asian government to shun military means as a method of countering them. Militarism as a state ideology is a threat to democracy and peaceful dissent.
- The SAARC states must extend recognition of health, education, housing, adequate food, water and energy poverty as critical to maintain basic living standards of the people of the region. Increased and accelerated investment in the social sector by states is essential for a more equitable, peaceful, corruption-free and sustainable society. The billions of dollars spent on 'national defence' not only foster aggressive militarism but also take away scarce resources otherwise available for the investment in social sector and basic human rights promotion.
- • The South Asian states must uphold knowledge commons rather than patents which exploit our heritage, markets and people. New attempts in WTO to bring generic drugs into TRIPS must be resisted so that vital medicines for HIV, new strains of Tuberculosis, Malaria, etc., do not become unaffordable. There must be a knowledge commons created in SAARC which are accessible to all people, inclusive of data, proven practices, and science and technology cooperation.
- Food banks also should aim at delivering the essential food grains to the victims of natural calamity through a rapid response mechanism. Remunerative prices must be given to farmers for their produce. The poor must be provided food at subsidized prices. GM seeds should be entirely banned. Agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides must be provided at subsidized prices, along with necessary energy. Urgent steps should be taken for the forest dwellers that should have a right to the forest resources, and food and other subsidies in times of drought and other hardships.
- The South Asian states must respect the right to mobility with dignity as a human right. Migrants should be assured of dignity and the right to work as well as physical protection, basic amenities and adequate wages. Survivors of trafficking, especially women and children must be protected. Similarly the rights of individuals and communities subject to forced displacement, disasters and forced eviction should be protected.
- South Asian Governments and civil society must work together and lead the world in the struggle for climate justice demanding legally enforceable international standards on the lines of and beyond the Kyoto Protocol and not succumb to the machinations of the perpetrators who want to push for accords in place of treaties.
- A monitoring body to regularly audit the compliance of the member states with the benchmarks set to safeguard and institutionalize democracy, human rights, justice, and the rule of law based on the SAARC “Democracy Charter” should be established.
- The long-cherished Regional Human Rights Mechanism should be created without further delay in conformity with the principles of universally accepted human rights standards to protect and promote human rights and social justice of the people in the region.
- An independent Climate Commission should be constituted with a view to promote more effective mitigation and adaptation programme to climate change to ensure environmental protection and sustainable development at the regional level
- The rights of migrant workers and their families as well as refugees should be protected by immediately ratifying the UN Convention on Migrant Workers and Rights of their Families-1990 and the Convention on the Status of Refugees-1951 respectively and (barrier) free mobility of people across the region by guaranteeing the notion of "Visa-free South Asia" should be ensured.
- Fully funded national plans to achieve universal health, education, water and sanitation, rights to food and housing, rights to productive employment amongst others as a core part of the constitutional arrangements should be ensured.
- All possible measures to ensure zero tolerance on violence against women should be exhausted and an enabling environment to promote leadership of women from all strata of life in peace-building, security and conflict transformation endeavors should be created.
- Constitutional‚ legal and administrative framework and effectively implement it to end social anomalies including existing caste/faith based discrimination and all forms of problems of impunity should be guaranteed.
- Last but not the least, the large numbers of the poor and the vulnerable in South Asia need to be freed of poverty and the attendant loss of dignity, social protection and their rights to health, education and productive livelihoods.
Dr. Arjun K. Karki
Peoples' SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +9771 4004507, Fax: +97714004508
Mr. Ahmed Nizam
Maldives NGO Federation
2nd FL -G. Uthurubin, Alikilegefaanu Magu,
Male’ – Republic of Maldives Tel: +960 3345818, Fax: +960 3345817