Maldivian voice for democracy & human rights at SAARC ignored by all

We all face challenges consolidating democracy and strengthening human rights” – Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed

The speech by the Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed at this just concluded 16 Summit of Heads of States, could perhaps be the first speech in the history of SAARC where a Head of State spoke of regional peace without conflicts on the basis of democracy and respect for human rights in every member country.

Unfortunately, this very insightful and futuristic speech by the Maldivian President was not given its due share of importance and publicity by any media in the region. This is surprising in this South Asian region, where the media should strive to campaign for democracy and human rights, with 06 of the biggest member States indexed for impunity against journalists, most killings going without investigations and the killers going free, according to CPJ.

This is perhaps why the Maldivian President proudly said, “Maldives stands just six places behind France, in Reporters Without Border’s press freedom index.”

From a speech that deserves maximum publicity, some excerpts are below.

[quotes]
Mr. Chairman,
As we endeavour to secure people’s fundamental rights, we also have a duty to foster a political culture that is accountable and responsible.
Maldivians have moved quickly to enjoy their new found freedoms.
Civil society is flourishing and dozens of NGOs and campaign groups have been formed.
Political participation is very high and just under 50% of the voting population are members of a political party.
Press freedom is also flourishing, and the Maldives stands just six places behind France, in Reporters Without Border’s press freedom index.
But with rights come responsibilities.
The majority of Maldivians dutifully enjoy their democratic freedoms.
As we aim to consolidate democracy, we must gently steer our new, open political culture towards one of co-operation and compromise, rather than quarrel and conflict.
The recent changes in the Maldives have transformed the country.
We now see things in a very different light.
And as our society has changed, so our view of institutions, such as SAARC, has matured.

Mr. Chairman,
With this in mind, I would like to use this, my first speech to SAARC leaders, to call for a comprehensive review of the on-the-ground effectiveness of SAARC.

I believe that we should undertake this review now.

I am sure that we, the leaders of the SAARC, we can decide on how we can make this an effective body that will empower development and prosperity in the region.
SAARC has expanded its work considerably over the past twenty-five years.
There have been many memorable achievements.

But there have also been times when the practical impact of our work has fallen behind the rhetoric.

Our ambitions have grown significantly, but I wonder whether our methods of work have kept pace.

Now is time to take stock; to assess in which areas SAARC can make a real difference.
It is time to prioritize, so we do not duplicate but rather enhance existing work.
And it is time to review how we transform words and promises into actions and results.

Before I deal specifically with these challenges, I would like to reflect on some of the changes in our region.

Many of our economies are struggling with the global recession.
At the same time, India’s economy has emerged largely unscathed by the downturn and continues to power ahead.
I believe it is not in the interests of India or other SAARC members, if a dominant economy rapidly expands, while smaller neighbouring economies lag behind.
I believe the onus is on all of us to look at the economic reforms that have helped to power India’s economic revival.
And I believe we should learn the lessons from India, to kick-start our own economic growth.

In the Maldives, we are implementing structural reforms to curtain state spending, while freeing the private sector to be the engine of growth.

We know the states role is to govern rather than do business. We are here to provide the people with necessary services and provide the opportunity for them to earn a decent living.
I hope our region can implement the necessary economic reforms for growth and prosperity.

I also hope that greater prosperity in our region, will lead to greater peace and security between SAARC members.

I appreciate that the road to peace is rarely short, and seldom smooth.
But I hope that neighbours can find ways to compartmentalize pending differences, while finding areas on which they can move forward.

I am specifically referring to differences between India and Pakistan.

The SAARC Charter requires us to compartmentalize the differences and move forward on common ground. We must therefore, today, decide to implement that vision of the Charter.

Today I am pleased and encouraged after our unofficial lunch. All SAARC leaders were able to very frankly have a conversation. We hope that this conversation will lead to greater dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Chairman,

The Maldives believes that SAARC has a key role to play in the 21st Century.
South Asia is one of the most dynamic and important regions of the world.
Many of the new Century’s defining events will take place within our borders.

It is therefore vital that, in SAARC, we have a lean, efficient, and effective organization that can help us confront the challenges, and seize the opportunities, that lie ahead.
We believe there are obvious areas in which it makes sense to pool our efforts.

It makes sense to co-operate in areas of regional importance, which require a united response and that benefit from economies of scale.
Using this criteria, I believe SAARC members should work together to address:

1. Green investment and development
2. Democracy promotion and human rights
3. Food and energy security; and
4. Inter-cultural understanding and exchange – especially for our youth.

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to offer some thoughts in each of these areas.

Firstly, green investment and development.
I purposefully use the phrase “green investment and development”, rather than the term “climate change mitigation.”

When we look at global warming, we are sometimes so preoccupied by the negatives, that we ignore the positives.
We sometimes dwell on the threats, and miss the opportunities.

I believe we can turn the climate challenge to our mutual advantage.
South Asia can become a testing ground for innovative green technologies, for research in renewable energy and for a new form of sustainable development.

By 2020, I want South Asia to be recognized as the main incubator of the world’s green industrial revolution.

With this in mind, I call on SAARC to establish funds to help raise capital for projects that promote green growth.

Moreover, we have been experimenting with climate change adaptation and mitigation for decades and there is no region more equipped with knowledge on this than us here.
Today, we must all share our knowledge and make South Asia a centre for climate change research.

In this regard, I believe SAARC members should work together to establish a Low-Carbon Research and Development Centre in the proposed South Asian University.
This new institute could foster learning in renewable energy, clean technologies and low-carbon development.

Mr. Chairman,

On the issue of democracy and human rights, it is pleasing to note that South Asia is now a region of democracies.

However, we all face challenges consolidating democracy and strengthening human rights.

I believe SAARC should consider establishing a regional human rights mechanism, similar to the one being developed for the ASEAN region.
This mechanism could help States promote and protect rights and freedoms in their jurisdiction.

It could ensure that international human rights laws are observed and implemented by SAARC members.
And such a mechanism could help people in our region develop a common understanding of universal human rights issues and perspectives.

For full speech – http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/4/?ref=1,6,4178

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