Address by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 14th SAARC
Summit, New Delhi 2007
Our region is the proud inheritor of a unique historical tradition.
Our common contribution to religion, art, literature, and moral values
is second to none. But, today, we are a region of contrasts. There are
significant disparities in GDP, income levels, natural resources,
Countries, particularly in Europe, have come together to form
regional blocks despite major differences in language, culture,
religion, income levels and deep seated historical enmities bringing
benefits to their people that could not have been possible only a few
years ago. I am particularly concerned that SAARC has not realised its
enormous potential yet.
I strongly believe that SAARC must become a Union where we will
endeavour to achieve our political and economic pursuits. It is also
high time that we adopt a single currency, which will enhance the
productivity of the region and improve trade without barriers.
SAARC, as I see, today stands at a critical point. A large majority
of our peoples are living in rural environments. We should pause for a
moment to ask ourselves, “What have we really done for our rural
masses?” Whilst we like to have sprawling cities in our countries,
haven’t we neglected the majority of our people, the rural poor? The
little we have done in our rural areas has been small initiatives.
Most villages stand with little or no basic infrastructure. Our
region, home for over one-fifth of the global population, must focus on
the livelihoods of most of our people. Let us not forget that the entire
SAARC region is still seriously affected by poverty, although during the
last two decades, we have concentrated on reducing it.
However, for most people in our region life is far from satisfactory.
We, as leaders, therefore, have an enormous responsibility on our
shoulders to deliver now, and not wait for the future.
We should be able to transform our people to be the producers for the
world given the diversity and the rich soils of our region. I request
this august forum, to adopt a resolution to work with dedication and
commitment to uplift the quality of our people in the rural areas.
I am a strong believer of practicality. While endorsing and fully
subscribing to the values of SAARC, we badly need to be action-oriented
rather than dependent on rhetoric. Merely saying good things about each
other and ignoring the reality will take us nowhere.
Therefore, all what we have endorsed over the years, must without any
further delay, be transformed into action. Promotion of intra-regional
trade is important to realise the goals enshrined in the SAARC Charter
to improve the image of the region as viable economic powerhouse.
We must have a region-centric approach to make the SAFTA work in a
real sense and give it effective force. I believe that a sincere
commitment and a strict timetable to implement the SAFTA will lead to
whole of South Asia becoming one massive region for enhancement of
Coincidentally, year 2007 has been named the “South Asia Year of
Tourism”. Tourism is one of the most lucrative trades that has not been
fully tapped and developed systematically in our region. Our governments
need to find new avenues to develop inter-regional and intra-regional
tourism in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. More intra-regional
travel will promote people to people contact we have advocated for so
Deviating from economic issues, I wish to touch upon the question of
human rights in the region - an issue that is close to my heart and
which has been a critical motivating force in my political career. Human
rights have been a part and parcel of the great cultural tradition of
the sub-continent for millennia.
The edicts of Emperor Asoka scattered around the sub-continent are an
ample testimony to that. Guided by the principles of our great
religions, we have respected the rights of our fellow human beings, and
it has not been necessary for us to wait for the calamity of global wars
or the deaths of millions due to misguided philosophies to recognize
We, in our region, will continue to protect and advance human rights,
including economic rights, despite having to struggle with differences
and poverty left behind by centuries of colonial domination.
Speaking of terrorism, no country could sustain itself and flourish
without addressing the need to maintain security and no country could
afford to limit their resolve to the eradication of terrorism to a mere
subset of national security. Terrorism anywhere is terrorism and is a
Unless we act collectively as a region, trans-border terrorist groups
will find safe havens in other parts of the region. Modern day
terrorists operate in a multi-dimensional fashion. They operate
politically, militarily, financially and ideologically. Therefore, our
effort to curb this menace should also be multi-pronged and sustained
and far reaching, and must include their sources of sustenance.
The recent air attack at Katunayake by the LTTE must attract
attention of all of us to the fact that our region as a whole is not
safe from the barbaric terrorist groups.
I wish to appeal therefore to this august forum to work jointly on a
counter terrorism strategy for our entire region, to defeat terrorism.
My government has placed great emphasis on eradicating terrorism and
making Sri Lanka a safe place for our people.
It is not lost on us, however, that terrorism, whilst needs to be
suppressed, also has to be grappled with, on a political platform. Mr.
Chairman, I am very much in agreement with your proposal to establish a
South Asian university.
This university need not be confined to one country. We need to
ensure that leaning is borderless and that any student in any of our
countries could benefit out of this unique initiative.
The time has come to move away from ‘fancy rhetoric’ and give way for
action and relentless effort in our resolve to achieve the collective
aspirations of all of us.
In conclusion, may I therefore be permitted to quote a great son of
the region, Emperor Asoka, “May my sons, grandsons, and great grandsons
strive for the welfare of all mankind. But this is difficult without a
great and sincere effort.