People's SAARC Declaration
Justice, Peace and Democracy
25th March 2007
We, the delegates and representatives of people of SAARC countries from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka met from 23rd to 25th March 2007 at Kathmandu to affirm our commitment to justice, peace and democracy in the region. We also affirm and commit ourselves to the vision of an alternative political, social, economic and cultural system in the region that will do away with all distinctions and discriminations of gender, caste, religion, language and ethnicity; lead to a situation free from exploitation and oppression; inaugurate a climate in which each individual will have the opportunity, in concert with the collectivity, to realise the full development of her or his human potential; restore the balance and harmony with nature; liquidate the artificial and human barriers that divide lands, collectivities and minds; and transcend all boundaries. Such a South Asia must be the goal of the people of this region and of their solidarity.
Shared socio-cultural history of the region
We, the people of South Asia, not only share a contiguous geographical space but also a social and cultural history that shapes our life styles, belief systems, cultural particularities, material practices and social relationships. Our natural environments are related, interdependent, and form elements of a common eco-system. There is a similarity in our life practices. There have been similarities in our histories as a result of our constant interactions for thousands of years. Our belief systems and cultural practices have been influenced by each other and exhibit some distinct similarities. On the other hand, the unique diversity of our region in all aspects has enriched the common heritage, and we celebrate a sustained history of mutual respect for one another.
However, we also recognize the reality that the ruling elites in the post colonial period within our respective countries have kept the people of our region apart through the creation of walls of suspicion, hostility, intolerance, dis- and mis-information and the prevention of interaction amongst the people, in order to maintain their control over their societies. Whilst recognizing the existence of the identities and natural boundaries of the people in the region, we note with concern that one of the mechanisms for the creation of spurious consent and fraudulent legitimisation for the rule of the ruling class and systems of oppression and exploitation is the constant creation of suspicion and fear of neighbours and thus a paranoia that leads to constant fears over national security and hence to militarization. This system also creates ideal conditions for the advancement of paranoia, war hysteria, militarization, proliferation of nuclear weapons and dominance of the armed security forces along with an ultra– nationalist ideology, which self-righteously curbs democratic debate and dissent on many vital issues.
The formation of SAARC was welcomed by the people across the region as it aroused the hopes and aspirations amongst them for a better South Asia and the hope that SAARC would enhance people-to-people linkages, free flow of people across the borders of the region and mutual cooperation amongst people to build a strong, vibrant societies as well as create a new era of prosperity of a qualitatively more humane, egalitarian, secular (promoting religious harmony, respecting each others religious beliefs), democratic, ecologically balanced, socially just and sustainable societies hitherto unknown in the region.
The Present Predicament
However, contrary to expectations, the official SAARC failed to fulfil the promised goals of a better South Asia. Instead economic policies pursued by ruling classes and parties of the region created conditions of exclusion and marginalisation, denial of rights, justice and democratic freedom in the different countries of the region.
As a result, South Asia and its people stand at a very testing and critical crossroad in the history of the region. The logic and thrust of the policies and programmes of SAARC have failed to address the issue of sovereignty of the people, including their economic, social and cultural rights.
The present crisis calls for a new response. The globalisation of South Asia and its people, buttressed by the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP), spells doom on the economic front; presents a threat even to the existing democracy and unleashes the demon of communalism and fundamentalist intolerance; increases disparity and discrimination; erodes livelihood opportunities; withdraws existing services and facilities, and instead encourages militarization and gender violence; and brings forth social and cultural deprivation. This process further reinforces and reconstitutes exploitative and oppressive structures in newer and newer forms. Finally, it breaks up the social cohesion by the degradation of the human spirit. All this is, of course, in the name of progress, modernisation and reform.
Changing Politics of the Region
1. The states seek to control and contain all potential or actual discontent through strict regulation and use of naked force. The actual solutions vary depending on specific situations. From monarchic or military dictatorships to exercises of dictatorial power under the guise of democracy and to 'functioning' formal democracies, all variations exist in the region. In substance, the regimes severely restrict the rights of the people, particularly through modifications of labour laws and limits on legitimate protests in words and action.
2. The rulers direct popular wrath against soft false enemies. Chauvinism, nationalism, and fundamentalism thus flourish under covert or overt state/ruling class patronage. Border conflicts, national chauvinism, ethnic strife, religious fundamentalism, or revivalism thus dominate politics. The major causality is of course democracy – in concept, institution or practice.
3. The state as an instrument for the peaceful resolution of various forms of social conflict remains fragile as political institutions have been robbed of their relevance and there grows the danger of the whole normative framework of democracy becoming undermined. Ironically, while the state has abdicated its social responsibility, it has equipped itself with draconian powers of control, legal or extra legal, which aim to curtail people’s rights of movements and legitimate forms of organisation and protest.
Our system has constructed political, constitutional, administrative and developmental mechanisms in a manner that denies the masses any easy and rightful access to the instruments necessary for realising these rights. The parliamentary, democratic processes in one way has provided a space for legitimate social action, but, on the other hand, the system has exploited each and every situation of crisis and has taken away these democratic rights of the masses and imposed draconian laws and rules that in reality have spelt a flagrant violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of its own constitution and the commitment to uphold the principles of human rights. These laws have empowered security forces to arrest citizens without warrants and to detain them without trial for long periods. Torture, custodial rape and extra-judicial killings have become common occurrences.
Neo-liberal growth model and marginalization and exclusion
The last three decades of this century have witnessed an unprecedented neo-liberal growth model that has severely and even violently restructured the region’s economic policies and cultural life of the people. Inequality and exclusion are not merely a distortion of the system but form the very logic of the new paradigm and are necessary for the growth and permanence of the system. The growing economic power of TNCs and MNCs and the role of international financial institutions, as well as the unequal and unfair trade relations under the WTO regime have resulted in the severe erosion of our sovereignty, destruction of natural resources, agriculture and means of livelihood.
Agriculture along with related activities is the main stay for millions of people in South Asia. A vast majority of the population of almost all countries in the region survive on subsistence and small scale agriculture. The current economic trends have plunged agriculture into a crisis and particularly the cultivating peasantry is in deep distress. Corporate logic, single cash crops, dependence of corporate seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides as well as vulnerability to vagaries of the market have made agriculture cash intensive. This has pushed the cultivating peasant into a debt trap that often becomes a death trap. Millions are forced to sell off their land and become urban destitute in search of any means of livelihood. The forcible acquisition of land of the peasants in the name of development compounds this problem. The increased urbanisation in South Asia is an indicator of agrarian destitution and transfer of the poor from the countryside to the cities.
The governments of the north and south – including those of South Asia inspired by the strange logic of their multilateral donors indulge in policies and moves – all in the name of progress and development – that increase the stranglehold of capital and large corporations over the people and their lives. These grandiose schemes seriously undermine the living standards and livelihoods of the people. The achievements so far of so called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in South Asia are minimal, hence are doubted that majority of them will be achieved by the date line of 2015. Moreover, the livelihood needs of the people are urgent and need to be addressed with an urgent attention, so it is ridiculous to ask people to wait hungry until 2015. Also the MDGs have failed to take into account the gender dimensions of poverty, therefore, these have been only the essential mechanisms to pave the way for the entry of private capital into all sectors including public services and supply of essential commodities rather than addressing the fundamental needs of the marginalised group of people.
While we laud and support all voluntary free exchange between the people of the region we are very suspicious of market driven and dominated mechanisms like the South Asia Free Trade Area that may further exacerbate the inequalities and disparities in the region and intensify poverty.
The SAARC states should instead first give an honest account of their achievements in the fields on which they have made public commitments, for example reduction in poverty.
Women in South Asia are special victims of all the oppression, exploitation, and violence that is now a feature of this region. Traditions as well as modern forms of patriarchy have pushed the women into virtual servitude in various forms. Violence is perpetrated against them in various ways and forms. We believe that all actions and struggles for democracy, justice and peace will have to put women in the centre of their thinking. None of these can be achieved unless gender equity and justice is simultaneously achieved.
1. The participants are unanimous that today's economic globalization is unequal, inequality enhancing, socially unjust and disruptive. It must be firmly resisted as it represents the triumph of corporate capitalism which totally restructures the economic, social and cultural life of the people in the region. We resist the dominance of financial capital which imperils the world's monetary equilibrium. It transforms states into mafias. It proliferates hidden sources of capital accumulation such as trafficking, arms race and child slavery. It is time to refuse the dictatorship of money.
2. We shall unitedly work to develop and strengthen people based governance systems from grassroots to national and regional levels. We also affirm that organic and sustainable agriculture is an imperative for food security at the household, local and national levels based on the age-old practices and knowledge systems of our ancestors.
3. We also commit ourselves to conserve biodiversity, land, water and marine ecosystems and marine life and simultaneously resist the intellectual property rights imposed by the northern countries as a mechanism to take away the living resources of the people of the south. We also commit ourselves to reduce the hostilities and tension in the region which can release critical energies and scarce resources towards the betterment of the life conditions of the masses in the region.
4. We the people of South Asia unitedly in solidarity declare that we are not enemies of each other, that we do not want war against each other, that we do not want to be armed into starvation. We further call upon all the governments of the different countries in the region to cease all covert and overt hostilities, to resolve all disputes through amicable dialogue to immediately reduce tensions, to decrease the militarization of the borders and to take urgent steps to bring about total disarmament in the region.
We demand the following immediately;
Ensure (barrier) free mobility of people across the region by guaranteeing the notion of visa free South Asia;
Strengthen and institutionalise democracy, human rights and justice and proportional participation of women at all level of state and civil society institutions.;
Demilitarise and denuclearize the states and its machineries;
Promote communal harmony within and between communities, societies and states;
Combat religious, ethnic and gender based violence and outlaw all types of fundamentalism;
Address environmental sustainability as an urgent priority;
Protect biodiversity, water, forests, fisheries and other natural resources from which the majority of the people derive their livelihood; protect indigenous community wisdom;
Guarantee women’s rights to be free from all kinds of discrimination and live a life without any forms of violence;
Guarantee sovereign rights of people for food;
Respect independence of all judiciary and judicial systems;
Solve the issues of refugees and IDPs; support just struggle of Bhutanese refugees;
Respect the right to information and promote free media;
Promote gender equality in all spheres - economic, social, political and cultural; Make provision for at least 50% reservation to women in all political, social and economic spheres of the society;
Make firm commitments regarding state obligations to provide health, education and basic needs; considering women’s right to their body, sexuality and reproduction make special provision for women’s access to health care from women’s perspective;
Stop free trade model that has been responsible for increasing poverty, trafficking of human beings, food insecurity and environmental destruction in the region;
Freeze defence budget and cut it at least by 10%. This amount should be diverted to social development. We realize that the lavish spending on weapons by poor South Asian countries is one of the major causes of rampant poverty in the region. We also demand that India and Pakistan stop arms race and give up nuclear weapons which pose great threat to the 1.5 billion inhabitants of this peaceful region;
Globalisation has resulted in eroding labour rights; we demand SARC states to ensure enforcement of Core Labour Rights at work places including Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and informal sector of work;
Stop using state force against own citizens in the name of so called war on terror and stop operating as agents of America by allowing land to be used as military bases;
Declare 2007-2017 as SAARC Dalits rights decade with enactment of concrete Acts, policies, programme and action plans;
Formulate separate policies for Himalayan and mountainous regions because of regional specificity and ecological sensitivity of this region;
Broaden the definition of violence against women (VAW) and provide justice to victims of all forms of violence. VAW is not only limited to physical or mental violence, but also all forms of discriminatory practices against women;
Ban use of genetically modified seeds and organisms. Urgent action is needed to save the genetic contamination of the vast biodiversity of the SAARC region;
Stop commercialisation of basic education; ensure right to education for all;
Ensure rights of the children; include child rights in school curricula and declare children Zone of Peace;
Promote religious co-existence, cooperation and harmony among and between the communities of the region;
Recognize labour as one of the important resources of the region and provision of Labour Advisory Committee with the involvement of trade unions as a formal recognized body in SAARC;
Respect and recognize the identity of South Asian Indigenous Peoples and ensure their social, political, economic and cultural rights in the constitution;
Free the region from all forms of bonded labour system;
Review present SAARC Convention on trafficking in women and children for prostitution and reformulate it from Human Rights perspective by broadening its definition on trafficking which can encompass trafficking for all purposes, and adding provisions which can protect rights of trafficked person to have access to justice, voluntary return home and fund for appropriate support and care;
We urge our Governments to Protect Rights of Migrants workers and their families by signing UN CONVENTION ON MIGRANT WORKERS AND RIGHTS OF THEIR FAMILIES 1990; and
Address the root causes of HIV/AIDS in a holistic way in the region.
The delegates also met in specific thematic workshops to discuss issues of vital concern to the people of the region. The resolutions, declarations, and demands of these thematic workshops that deal with specific sectors, areas, and concerns form the Annexure to this Declaration.
We conclude this declaration, expressing our solidarity with the people of Nepal in their struggle for realising loktantra and further strengthen and defend the gains of pro-democracy movement. We also call upon all the democratic forces in the region to extend all possible support to strengthen democratic movement in Nepal.
We warn from the topmost range of the world ‘the Himalayan Mountains’ that the people of the region are sovereign and they are independent to decide the way they like.