President Mahinda Rajapakse has appealed that all member states join forces to fight against external threat on member states. We must redouble efforts to forge a common position on major issues at international for a. Member states must abstain from engaging in bilateral issue that are political in nature.
President Rajapakse was delivering his address at the 18 th session of the SARRC Summit in Kathamndu. In the course of his address, he said:
“ We gather here with renewed focus desiring “Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity” – the theme of the Eighteenth Summit. SAARC, having evolved in structure, form and content, through almost three decades, is at a crucial juncture. Now there is a need to shift from the present traditional approach and move towards implementing a result-oriented, actionable plans, which impact directly on the lives of our peoples.
South Asia is characterized by diverse cultures, ethnic groups, religions and languages, but we are bound by values of unity and tolerance. SAARC’s strength is in our diversity and harmonious co-existence. The region has plenty of valuable land and ocean-based natural resources and young, resourceful human capital – whose skills we must together promote, more vigorously.
The regions’ robust 6% average growth of the last 6 years translated into some impressive improvements in human development. The implementation in Sri Lanka of the national development strategy contained in the Mahinda Chintana - Vision for the future, focused on inclusive, rural-centric developmental initiatives.
Sri Lanka's economy has recorded a stable growth of around 7.8% over the last few years, also achieving a low poverty level of 6.5%. South Asia, with a population of over 1.6 billion people, still has 24.5% of its population, living in poverty, and we cannot remain satisfied. SAARC needs to firmly address issues of poverty and exclusion, increasing disparities between the rich and poor, rural and urban communities. Infusion of capital to infrastructure development creates a vibrant economic environment,invigorating business, attracting investment, generating employment and sustaining livelihoods. This has been a policy tenet of my Government in post-conflict development, which has resulted in an economic growth of 22% in the North. That is in the North Province where the terrorists destroyed everything. All the infrastructure was ere destroyed.
Economic cooperation within SAARC is one of the key engines driving the region, towards greater regional integration. Sri Lanka continues to support the full implementation of the SAFTA. However, trade and services need to be seen, not as an end in itself, but as part of the development process. The SAFTA processes and our aspiration to establish a South Asia Economic Union by 2030 must take into account the asymmetries, which exist within the region, as well as particular social and developmental contexts. No country or section of South Asia’s peoples should be left behind in such processes. Addressing the challenges of lack of access to sanitation and clean water and emerging threats such as water quality management, health hazards including chronic kidney diseases, is at the heart of human well-being. The failure to address these issues collectively would stunt human development achievements in the region.
Shelter in our countries is a dire need and has varying degrees of success in this area, which has to be addressed. Climate change, a defining challenge of our times, also demands a concerted regional and global response. Sri Lanka believes on the need to graduate SAARC member countries towards a climate change resilient future. SAARC must forge a common position to the extent possible on the relevant issues, and become a significant voice on the global climate platform. Through some countries, our region has acquired excellence in the area of space technology. This advancement has captured the interests of our peoples, especially the young. The initiative of Prime Minister Modi to develop and launch a Satellite dedicated to SAARC is a welcome initiative. Application of this technology to the areas including communication, distance education and disaster management, the socio economic development in the region would be greatly benefitted.
We must vigorously pursue alternative methods of energy production to establish energy security. There is a clear need to develop a balanced energy mix to mitigate over-dependency on fossil fuel. The Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation will undoubtedly provide the platform to enhance regional engagement in the electricity sector. Heritage and Culture are important facets of human development. I see culture as a facet, which brings the region together, in a unique manner. Sri Lanka’s commitment in this area will be further enhanced, with the completion of the state-of-the-art, SAARC Cultural Centre in Matara, in the Southern region of our country.
Buddhist civilizational heritage is seen across South Asia. As we meet here in Nepal - the hallowed birthplace of the Gautama Buddha – I am inspired to commend to this Summit, that we establish a cultural trail linking key Buddhist sites in the region, through which the people of South Asia, will find commonality in our shared civilizational wealth. We must recognize the need to empower youth, and foster their skills acquisition. Accordingly, I proposed to the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly to declare 15th July as the World Youth Skills Day. With the support of all SAARC countries, a resolution has been adopted, by consensus, at the United Nations. I propose that SAARC too resolves to celebrate this event collectively.
The benefits of regional initiatives on infrastructure, communication, air, road and rail links, must reach those in the periphery. In this regard, it is important that the Regional Agreements on Railways and Motor Vehicles be progressed. There is also a need, to broaden the scope of our aviation links by permitting freedom rights for airlines to reach not only the Capitals, but other SAARC cities as well. The ease of air link is imperative for the success of the Buddhist cultural trail. With the neutralization of the terrorist group in Sri Lanka, in May 2009, a vastly changed security environment has emerged in the region. Terrorism still remains a fundamental security challenge both regionally and internationally. Sri Lanka cannot remain complacent in maintaining safeguards against its possible resurgence.
We owe it to ourselves and our peoples to ensure that the radical views of a few and misplaced agendas of some others do not undermine the security and well-being of the large majority of peace loving people, firstly, in the member states and then, in the region as a whole. South Asia’s intellectual and spiritual heritage is unparalleled in many ways. The edicts of our forefathers established value systems, and principles of governance similar to contemporary human rights framework.
Human Rights should be recognized by all as a moral and ethical concept rather than as a political tool. Sadly, however, we are witnessing motivated political agendas being thrust by extra regional entities, on some countries in our region, in the guise of human rights. Intervention in such form is being attempted with scant regard to the structures, and cultural traditions of societies, and ground realities. While SAARC practice has been to abstain from involvement in bilateral issues of a political nature, we must resist external manipulations. It would be morally in keeping with the SAARC spirit, to join forces against external threats on Member States. SAARC has enjoyed useful engagement with several Observer States. Sri Lanka appreciates and values their partnership through the conduct of several capacity building initiatives. It is imperative to seek ways and means in enhancing this engagement with the Observer States, and consider graduating their role to a more project based results-oriented partnerships. At the same time, SAARC’s outreach to other regional groupings needs further consolidation.
There is a need to re-double efforts to forge common positions at international fora on issues of critical common importance, such as human rights, environment & climate change, labour migration, equitable financial and trading system, terrorism and etc. There is a reservoir of political will amongst us, Member States, and I am confident that it would be harnessed towards this end. At this Summit, let us resolve to break through the shackles of bureaucracy and pursue a co-operative, action-oriented path. This will pave the way to a wonderful opportunity to elevate this region to one of prosperity and peace, for all our peoples. Let us resolve to do so in earnest. This collective undertaking will make our commitment to the theme of this Summit and to SAARC, even deeper.”