SAARC/Alternative People's Regionalism

IndexKathmandu, 6th September 2015: Dr Hasan Mahmud MP, the Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment and Forest of Bangladesh urges South Asian civil societies to develop mass awareness on regional togetherness and common issues in the region so that politicians can work together.

Mr. Hasan speaks while chairing the concluding session of the three-day meeting of South Asian CSO andParliament Leaders on Strategies towards SDG Summit and CoP (Conference of Parities) 21 at Paris. The meeting is held at Hotel Crown Plaza of Kathmandu, Nepal organized by Beyond Copenhagen and Pairvi of Delhi.

It is to mention that, UN general assembly is going to adopt the Sustainable Development Agenda as the roadmap for the post MDG era and in December this year Paris is going to host the 21st Climate Conference of Parties (COP). This strategic meeting, that’s why, takes place in Nepal to sort out the possible strategies of South Asia in those international negotiations.

Mr. Om Thanvi, a senior journalist and the former editor of Janasatta-e-Hind, newspaper from Delhi, moderates the concluding session. The other distinguished speakers of the session are the former Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Madhab Kumar Nepal, former Energy Minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat and Jorunalist Ajay Dixit, the Editor of Water Nepal.

On behalf of South Asian civil society Mr. Soumya Dutta and Mr. Ajay Jha from India, Mr. Hemantha Wathanga from Sri Lanka and Rezaul Karim Chowdhury from Bangladesh speak on the occasion. Mr. Bijoy Prathap from India gives vote of thanks on behalf of the organizers.

Former Energy Minister of Nepal Dr. Prakash remarks about the potentialities of energy cooperation in South Asian countries for further advancement of the sub-continent.

Former Prime Minister Mr. Madab Kumar Nepal reiterates the need of mass awareness and the unity of the region’s politicians through it to work together addressing the common cause of the member countries.

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Kathmandu, 4th September 2015. A three-day meeting of South Asian civil society and parliamentarians on SDG and Climate Change is jointly organized by Beyond Copenhagen Collective and Pairvi (Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India) of India in Transnational Justice Institute in Kathmandu.

The inauguration session of the meeting is chaired by Dr Hasan Mahmud, Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment and Forest of Bangladesh. Dr. Hasan says during the inauguration, South Asians civil society have to work with politicians to make the LDC (Least Developed Countries) and South Asian voice louder in the CoP (Conference of Parities) 21, the Climate Conference in Paris.

A number of Parliament Members and civil society leaders from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka take part in the meeting. Mr Bijoy Prothap of South Asia Dialogue on Ecological Democracy (SADED), India moderates the inauguration session while Mr Soumya Dutta of Beyond Copenhagen Collective from India speaks.

Mr Bijoy Prothap in his speech emphasizes on mobilizing South Asian leaders to place their own issues to be discussed in the global SDG and Climate Change talks. He adds, almost all the LDC will be the MVC (Most Vulnerable Countries) by Climate Change.

Mr Soumya Dutta of Beyond Copenhagen says, SDG is going to be adopted in next UN General Assembly but there are hardly any debate going on in South Asia on it.

Dr Hasan Mahmud as the Chair of the inauguration session gives importance to the interaction between the civil society and politicians on the topic. He puts examples on how a good inter-government cooperation in South Asia can solve energy scarcity in the sub continent. He mentions how Bhutan has increased per capita income to $4000 by using hydro power and exporting it to India.

Dr. Hasan also mentions how Bangladesh as an LDC could be affected by climate change. He urges civil society of the sub region to work with politicians so that South Asian and LDC voice can be louder in Paris Climate Conference.

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Index_605Speakers at a seminar in Katmandu, Nepal on Monday proposed that the least development countries (LDC) along with the developing countries should have been able to exercise their right to ensure food security for their poor people. Though WTO (World Trade Organization) thinks that this food security agenda will distorts the global trade.
The WTO’s decision of 1995 about giving 10% subsidy for the people should not be enforced at present considering inflation and price hike in essentials. They said the decision should be rationalized in keeping with the present scenario.
The seminar titled “The world Trade Organization, Agriculture and the right to food,” held at the hall room of Administrative Staff College in Lalitpur district adjacent to Katmandu in Nepal is organized by Seven civil service organizations including Equity and Justice Working Group Bangladesh (EquityBD), South Solidarity Initiative-Action Aid, India, Third World Network (TWN) of India and LDC Watch of Nepal as a part of the 3-day People’s SAARC regional Convergence. The People’s SAARC Regional Convergence, a south Asian mega event of civil society, took place in Nepal from 22 to 24th November as the parallel event of the official SAARC Summit on behalf of the people of South Asia.
Benny Kuruvilla of South Solidarity Initiative-Action Aid of India moderated the seminar while among others Badrul Alam of Bangladesh Krishak Federation, Mostafa Kamal Akanda of Equity and Justice Working Group, Ranja Sengupta of Third World Network and Prerna Bomzan of LDC Watch Nepal spoke.
Addressing the seminar, Badrul Alam said WTO is worse than World Bank and IMF. It has own teeth to bite meaning it has the legal rights to punish its member states if fail to comply with the decision. He added, it is an undemocratic and illegitimate institution and is promoting the neo-liberal economic agenda in favour of the multinational companies.
Mustafa Kamal Akanda of EquityBD said, there was popular demand to allocate more in agriculture in the current national budget of Bangladesh but the government was forced by IMF and World Bank not to increase it. And this is how Bangladesh government was bound to switch the allocation for agricultural subsidy to social safety net.
Ranja Sengupta of India said WTO is ignoring genuine food security and the present livelihood concern and pushing aggressive trade liberalization, which is destroying the livelihood of farmers as well as the environment in the South Asia.
Prerna Bomzan said in her speech since development was at the centre of Doha Round, the LDC issues must be prioritized. The Bali LDC package must be implemented immediately because it is still non-binding in nature.

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Index_85Katmandu, Nov 23, 2014: Speakers at a seminar on Sunday said, roles of SAARC countries in the UN process on climate change are not unified. They said, we need unified position from the SAARC countries in negotiation process in the UNFCC because there are other groups like LDC / MVC (Least Developed Countries / Most Vulnerable Country) and G-77 etc.

The seminar workshop titled “Alternative People’s regionalism: Review SAARC declaration on climate change from the people’s perspective”, held at Women Development Training Centre of Lulitpur district adjacent to the capital Katmandu in Nepal. Speakers in the seminar said, consecutive SAARC Declaration on climate change from Dhaka and Thimphuare inadequate to serve the interest of the people of the region.

Nine civil society organizations from the South Asia regions, ie, Beyond Copenhagen, PARIVI, CECOEDECON and BJVJ, these four organizations from India, ANFPa and RRN two organization from Nepal, BAPA, Khani Bangldesh, CSRL and EquityBD have organized the workshop as a part of a 3-day long People’s SAARC regional Convergence being held in Lulitpur district started on this Saturday, 22 November 2014. People’s SAARC Regional Convergence, is a south Asian mega event of civil society. Note that this is a parallel event of 18th SAARC summit to be held in Katmandu during 26th to 28th November.

Moderated by BAPA secretary General Dr Abdul Matin, the workshop was addressed by president of Bangladesh Krisok Federation, Mr. Badrul Alam, Prof Dr.Keshab Khadka and Balram Banskota of Nepal, Ujjayani Halim and Soumya Dutta of India. Mustafa Kamal Akanda of Equitybd presented the keynote paper in the workshop.

Addressing the workshop Mr. Badrul Alam demanded justice for the climate migrants as well as conservation of biodiversity. He also emphasized on the use of grassroots knowledge in managing the situation. Balram Banskota said in his speech, we must consider the struggle against capitalism and neo-liberalism.

Dr Abdul Matin said that, Dhaka and Thimphu declaration of SAARC on climate change should be reviewed. He added, Connectivity should be used for the interest of the people of the region like visa free trans-boundary movement, opening rail and road communication between all the SAARC countries and allowing the climate migrants to freely move across all the countries for their livelihood.

In his keynote paper Mustafa Kamal Akanda underscored the need for facilitating climate migrants and their free movement throughout the SAARC countries. He also demanded for open employment access within the SAARC countries as well as demilitarization and redirect that invest towards people’s wellbeing.

Soumya Dutta from India said, we need alternative regionalism overarching goal of people’s welfare and a visa free regime with access in employment opportunity for people irrespective of religion and country. He also mentioned that most of the declaration commitment from Dhaka and Thimphu summit on climate change is hardly implemented.He urged the SAARC governments to form an Inter-Govemental Expert group on climate change as well as to establish SAARC climate change fund along with technology development in South Asia.

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Dhaka, 3rd November 2011. Today eighteen right groups organization and network under the banner of People’s SAARC organized a human chain and rally in front of national press club to place their demands on the eve of SAARC Maldives summit to be held during 9th and 10th Nov, they criticize SAARC as mere talk shop, so far have been hardly able to deliver for poor people in the region, they demand a visa free South Asia as a need to make the region poverty free.

The group comprise of organizations and network namely, BKF, BDPC, BNPS, BTUC, CDP, CSRL, DCI, EquityBD, IED, Kishani Shoba, LDC Watch, INCIDIN Bangladesh, Nobodhara, OKS, SAAPE, SANGAT, SUPRO and VOICE. The rally was moderated by Mostafa Kamal Akanda of EquityBD, main speakers of the rally were Rokeya Kabir of BNPS, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury from EquityBD, Monju Rani Pramanik of SUPRO, Fakrul Ferdous from DCI, Subal Das of Bhumihin Somitee, and Zaid Iqbal from Krishok Federation.

In a statement distributed by the group placed major eight demands, which have been also reiterated by the speakers in this regard, these are (i) make SAARC Food Bank immediate operational, enhancing it stocks up to 1 million tons, and also to initiate SAARC Seed Bank to defy corporate control on seeds in the region, (ii) initiate cooperation in agriculture especially to prepare Agriculture Perspective Plan 2020 as it was declared in Colombo summit, (iii) Initiate basin wise river and water management plan for water sharing as to respect rights of citizens of all the countries, a particular country should not take advantage due to its existence, (iv) to make SAFTA effective ensure duty free and quota free access of the products of SAARC’s least developed countries to other SAARC countries, (v) initiate an integrated and coordinated climate action plan in view of Thimpu Declaration with a must consideration for climate induced migrant’s resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration, (vi) to reduce investment in militarization and to invest more on education and health , (vii) to initiate culture of mutual understanding and tolerance in defying the culture of hatred and petty nationalism, they demand there should be a People Union of South Asia, and finally (viii) they urged that visa free South Asia is the only way to reduce poverty and to pave the way for a single union.

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Dhaka, 20th January, 2011, the civil society organization and their representatives of South Asian countries urged to SAARC leaders to play a pro-active role to fulfill the aspiration of the poor people of South Asia, in a press conference title “ Peoples’ SAARC on ‘Envisioning New South Asia: Peoples’ Perspective” held at Dhaka national press club. The press conference is held after two days of discussion on the different development and pro-people issue for South Asian people especially SAARC countries. In the press conference the speakers also mentioned that the South Asian countries are the home of largest number of poor people in the world and the region is plagued by conflict, poverty, lack of access to basic necessities and services; and ravaged by conflicts of various kinds, rampant unemployment, feudalism, abysmal living conditions of the large majority, these further complicated by religious sectarian violence and state sponsored violence, both domestic and cross border unrest and insurgence.

The press conference is moderated by Rezaul Karim Chowdhury form EquityBD and key note presented by Rachita Sharma Julian from Nepal. Among others Mr. Keramat Ali form Pakistan, Dr. Sarbaraj Ghatka from Nepal, Jotin Dessai from India and Rokeya kabir from Bangladesh also spoke in the press conference.

In the presentation of key note, Rachita Sharma of Nepal said that, we have urgent need to find solutions to the deep seated problems in the South Asian region and clearly, these cannot be found in the existing failed neo-liberal paradigm. It is also clear to us that the solutions to what are common problems spanning the entire region are more likely to be effective if they are regional cooperation in scope and regional unity can be a good beginning to finding solutions and alternatives.

Jotin Dessai of India said that, we condemn all sort of killing in the name of so called terror fighting and illegal border crossing and trade. That’s why we urged to our SAARC leaders to show their real commitment of terror fighting and proposing to take common platform on this issue. He also said that tightening of visa restrictions does not affect those who carry arms and carry out armed attacks on innocents, because they don’t need apply for visas rather affected are those have families and searching livelihood options in neighboring countries. He also claimed that, only free VISA regime among SA countries can able to stop the illegal trade and border smuggling.

Mr. Keramat Ali of Pakistan said that, we believe that we have common problem and we have to be open for South Asian people and their livelihood. We should take a common policy and action for utilization of common natural resources especially water. He also mentioned that the big or mega dam doesn’t benefited the poor rather benefited the contractor and corporate and it should eliminate through a common position of SAARC leaders. He also condemn SAARC leaders for deferring SAARC Food Bank concept

Dr. Sarbaraj Ghatka of Nepal said that we have almost need to people mobilization for fighting poverty, inequality and injustice, where our governments claiming them SAARC leaders are not able to do this properly. That’s why we are civil society activists are trying from our level best to influence our respective government to promote gross development policy for our South Asian people.

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Discussants in the People’s SAARC seminar today laid emphasis on
increasing democratization of state to invigorate the development of a secularism at all levels to combat the growth of religious extremism in the society.
They also laid emphasis on creating a SAARC parliamentarian forum to bring the legislators all countries together to envision a common future of the region.
They said the situation in the South Asian countries are only deteriorating with
large number of people joining hands to violence and extremism from being devastated in socio-political life run by the national elite.
Income inequality, control of economic resources by the rich and the rise of corporate interest dominating the state institutions are only adding new tensions destabilizing the nations. Greedy politicians are only exploiting the situation to perpetuate
their power.
It explains why there is war in Afghanistan and Pakistan which is now taking the form
of Balkanization to sweep over the entire region and even Indian may not be spared from its devastating impacts at the end.
Former Indian Naval Chief M Ramdas said the world saw the trading of US$ 1200 billions worth of armament last year and 30 percent of it went to India followed by 14-15 percent purchase made by Pakistan.
So the region must try to keep out of external influence to allow destabilization taking place from outside sources. But it should try at the same time to keep the domestic forces keeping the balancing role to bring prosperity and growth to the door step of the poor and marginalized people.
Discussants also laid emphasis on remodeling the education system to induce the spirit of democracy and secularism in school test books so that the madrasa education and its impacts on younger mindset can be marginalized.
New Age editor Nurul Kabir said secularism along with an equitable distribution of wealth and income in the society can provide the basis of a sustainable state. The time for nation based is over, he said pointing out democratic tolerance and pluralism can only satisfy the need of the nation state. It may also provide the basis of a South Asian union,
he suggested.
Some discussants underscored that tribal people’s rights in the state should have the constitutional guarantee so that majority in a society can not exploit their situation to force them taking extremist stands.
They said state should become people centric to support all its citizen and this can
only safeguard peace and stability in all SAARC countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and others, they said.
Kamal Chenoy, Hsasil Bejonjo, Bishunu Shrestha
Mohd Latheef, Lalitha Ramdas, Keramat Ali and Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Netra Timsina, Najma Sadeq, among others spoke on the occasion.
The discussions today were centered on conflicts, ethnic diversity and climate change issues.

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Human right activists and civil society leaders from all eight
SAARC countries at a seminar in the city today held soul searching discussions on how to expedite regional integration breaking apart the shackle of elite run traditional
The civil society leaders also laid emphasis on evolving a new growth strategy and alternative models for development over the neo-liberal models having the globalization and economic exploitation of the poor nations by industrialized nations and of the poor by the rich within a nation, especially in South Asian region.
They spoke critically of the ongoing globalization process saying trade liberalization
is only destroying local capacity and job market. It has taken the form of commercial hegemony instead of fostering prosperity to the poor.
They also spoke of creating a secular South Asia through building democratic institutions in respective nations.
The two-day seminar taking place at BRAC Center will end tomorrow with adoption of a declaration. This is part of a process titled “Envisioning New South Asia from the People’s Perspectives” organized by a regional civil society network called “People’s SAARC’.
About 30 civil society leaders from seven SAARC countries are taking part in it, in addition to large number of civil society leaders from host Bangladesh. They include a senator from Pakistan, a retired navy chief from India and such other high profile personalities from the member states.
The inaugural session of this seminar was moderated by noted Indian human
rights activist Kamala Bhasin. Among the panelists in this session were Prof Anisuzzaman, trade union leader representing Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Karamat Ali, and former Human Rights Commissioner of Nepal, Kapil Shrestha. All of them emphasized that the sub-continent can only deliver the full potentials of prosperity within the framework of a People’s Union of South Asian.
There is no alternative to it and sooner or later it will come true. Karamat Ali said, the region had in fact lost an opportunity of making the union in 1970-71 and had it been done, the genocide in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka would not have taken place.
He begged apology of his country’s role in Bangladesh in 1971 reiterating the demand that he favoured the trial of Pakistani war criminals and their associated that Bangladesh is now holding for its own perpetrators of war criminals.
He said he would continue the demand for trial of his country’s war criminals until they are brought to justice.
Prof Anisuzzaman said people have lost confidence in the SAARC process of
integration because it is basically based on promoting the interest of the elite and corporate business. He laid emphasis on promoting people’s regionalism to facilitate people to people contact and bring the benefit of economic prosperity to common people.
Kamala Bhasin said there should be alternative approach to expedite regional integration apart from official platforms. She said people should be encouraged to ignore narrow national identity, border and such other obstacles which are used now as divider to the much sought unity of the region.
Kapil Shrestha laid emphasis on greater involvement of common people in rights movement and protests actions to get the people’s voice heard.

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Dhaka, 17th April 2010. Today Bangladesh National Committee on People’s SAARC, a coalition of civil society right groups announced three-day programs in a press conference held at Dhaka Reporters Unity. On the eve of the 16th SAARC Summit to be held in Bhutan on 28 and 29 April, this coalition outlined its three-day program that includes several people’s events to raise civil society voices to be herd in the official SAARC process. Through this press conference, this coalition demanded visa free South Asia for greater South Asian integration embedded with peace, harmony and well-being of the common people of the South Asian countries. They also criticized official SAARC process as it has failed to respond the common aspirations of the South Asian people. The press conference was chaired and moderated respectively by the committee convener Dr. Rashid E Mahbub and Rokeya Kabir, while Rezaul Karim Chowdhury read-out the written statement, Mohiuddin Ahmed spoken about the prospect of forming People Union of South Asia, especially in respect of eradicating poverty in using common natural resources.

People’ SAARC is a convergent of CSOs in South Asia since 2007. Along with the official SAARC Summit, the first people’s SAARC held in Nepal in 2007, second one was in Colombo in 2008 and, the next People’s SAARC, along with the 16th SAARC Summit, will be held in Delhi on 22 and 23rd of April 2010. Alongside, People’s SAARC Bangladesh committee will organize cultural program and youth rally on 18th April in Dhaka University campus, a seminar on 19th April at CIRDAP auditorium and finally, on the inauguration day of official SAARC summit on 28th April, a protest rally will be organized in front of national press club.

Rokeya Kabir explained the background on the formation of People’ SAARC which was South Asia wide process. Mohiuddin Ahmed mentioned that, South Asia has a vast of natural resources, which remain un-utilized for mistrust and conflict. Dr. Mahbub E Rashid criticized SAARC not to having any progress in regional integration in true sense, while other regions, especially South East Asia, have had much progress in this regard. In the written statement, M Rezaul Karim Chowdhury mentioned that the rulers of this region must head toward a society of human liberty rather then having a society of security; this is the only way to get rid of fundamentalism and terrorism of this sub continent. The statement mentioned still 500 millions South Asian live under $ 1 income and 88 millions people suffer from hungry, which is world largest. However, the SAARC has still failed to operationalize SAARC food bank. They criticized Bhutan government for creating refugee problem; they also criticized Bhutanese monarchy for limiting democracy and civil society development. They mentioned that South Asia will have worst climate impact, that without regional integration there is no way to tackle those, especially the drinking water, irrigation water and climate migrants problems.

The members of the coalition includes ACD, BNPS, EquityBD, IED, INCIDIN Bangladesh, SAAPE, SUPRO, Jubilee South-APMDD, SANGAT and Unnayan Anneshan. The press conference were also attended by Noman Ahmed Khan, Sahanaz Sumi, Omar Tarek Chowdhury, Sahadat Islam Chowdhury, Mostafa Kamal Akhanda and Atiqul Islam Chowdhury.

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Dhaka, 28 April 2010. Today, on day of inauguration of the 16th SAARC summit in Bhutan, the People’s SAARC Bangladesh Chapter, a coalition of civil society groups in Dhaka, demanded visa free South Asia on the way forward to People’s Union in the region. They also circulated a written statement with sixteen point demands, which includes- immediate operation and revision of SAARC food bank aiming to feed all hungry people of the region; turning the SAARC Development Bank as alternative to World Bank and ADB; no imposition of uniformity and to uphold diversity of the nations; condemning militarism and terrorism as both are peoples’ enemy etc.

The alliance comprises with different rights organization raised demand through organizing a human chain and rally in front of national press club. They termed SAARC a mere talk shop as this regional association has failed to fulfill the aspiration of common people of South Asia. They demanded changes in SAARC Charters to accommodate dialogue on crucial bilateral and multilateral issues. Representatives of rights organizations who delivered speech from the human chain includes Mustafa Kamal Akanda of Jubilee South, Noman Ahmed Khan of IED, Omar Tarek Chowdhury and Shamsul Alam Sajjan of BNPS, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury and Shamsuddoha of EquityBD, Monju Rani Pramanik of SUPRO, Faisal Bin Majid of SAAPE, Abdul Quader Hazari of Arpon and Nazrul Islam Dali of Soha.

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury condemned Bhutan Government, host of the 16th SAARC Summit, for not allowing civil society to organize Peoples’ SAARC and other peoples’ activities in Thimpu. He called the Bhutanese Government to declare and respect repatriation rights of 80,000 Bhutanese refugees who are languishing their lives in Nepal boarders. He also said that if commodity and capital could move freely, the people especially the climate-forced migrants also should have free access to all countries. Noman Ahmed Khan said that South Asia is endowed with immense natural resources, these resources should not be meant for corporations and elites, it should be meant and managed with common strategy for poverty eradication in the region. Omar Tareque Chowdhury reminded the historical linkages and one origin of South Asian culture. Shamsul Alam Sajjan appealed the South Asian leaders to review what tangible they have achieved in last twenty-five years. Monju Rani Pramanik expressed her expectation for a concrete plan on common climate strategy. Fesial Bin Majid termed the official SAARC as a limited club of South Asian rulers. He demanded a drastic regional wise cut in military expenditure and channeling this money for poverty eradication in the region.

Besides this Human Chain, Bangladesh National Committee on Peoples’ SAARC organized several other programs in Dhaka like a press conference on 15th April, cultural program in Dhaka University Campus on 18 April and national seminar on 19 April. Civil Society Organizations across the South Asia also organized different peoples’ events in their capitals, which culminated to a regional assembly in Delhi from 20 to 23 April 2010.

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