SAAPE was established as a regional platform for the South Asian like-minded peoples and groups and the basic objective of SAAPE campaign has been to establish relations of poverty with politics and human rights. The mission of SAAPE is to facilitate the process for establishing suitable mechanisms thereby ensuring people’s genuine participation in the decision making processes at all levels which would contribute towards creating a South Asia where all individuals are able to fully enjoy all human rights for dignified living. This chapter is intended to highlight SAAPE’s milestones since the Manesar meeting in 2000.
In the year 2000 civil society actors from South Asia and their well-wishers from Europe came together in Manesar, India to collectively fight against poverty and injustice in the South Asia region. The factor that brought these actors together was the recognition that civil society organisation and NGOs’ expertise in macro-economic and political frameworks could help in effectively addressing rampant poverty and injustices prevailing in the region. The meeting consequently formed the South Asia Civil Society Network (SACSN) and also adopted the “Manesar Declaration.”1 The declaration recognised that the economic policies of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation promoted by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and the non-participatory development model followed by the South Asian States as the major reason for growing poverty and deprivation in the region. The participants of the meeting resolved that only a ‘rights based approach’ to social development would help in eradicating poverty and ensuring the dignity of poor, marginalised and deprived peoples of South Asia.
The First General Assembly of SAAPE was held in Colombo from 14 to 16 June 2003 with the theme “Power, Politics and Poverty in South Asia.” The purpose of the Assembly was to analyse poverty, politics, power and the politics of development in South Asia, to formalise the SAAPE alliance and to strategise about how SAAPE could better facilitate the work of its member organisations in eradicating poverty in the region. The meeting also intended to provide a space for sharing experiences from the various social struggles and mass movements represented by the SAAPE membership, and discussing how to work together, learn from each other, and formulate constructive next steps forward. The Colombo Declaration reiterated the Manesar Declaration and reaffirmed the power of people in the South Asia region to regain control to abolish both poverty, and the politics that creates this condition. The country focal points were also established at the First GA meeting.
The real challenge in most countries in South Asia is to improve the process of governance in such a way that public policy fundamentally protects the general public interests rather than being a hostage to vested interests keeping the vast majority of poor and marginalised deprived of access to political decision-making, natural resource use and human development. Increased commitment to democracy and justice are, therefore, prerequisites for the South Asian countries in order to achieve their development goals. It was against these background, the second General Assembly of SAAPE held in Kathmandu on 2-3 July 2006 focused on the theme of “Struggles for Grassroots Democracy: A South Asian Civil Society Perspective.” Given the historic failure of the IFIs policies in eradicating poverty and development, the participants of the GA called to downplay and delegitimise the International Financial Institutes (IFIs), and international capital for their self-proclaimed right to set agendas for poverty eradication and development. The participants took note of the region’s food crisis and the severity it could bring to the millions of the South Asian population and therein, committed to work towards realising food sovereignty and food security for the people of the region, and struggle to create a supportive policy framework – promoting Eco- Agriculture, opposing GM food, and promoting peasant alliances for ensuring food sovereignty.
The global economic crisis that began in 2007 is in fact symptomatic of the broader failures of neo-liberalism and casino-financed capital system. Its impact in South Asia could be felt in terms of food crisis, fuel crisis and financial crisis. Therefore, the 3rd General Assembly held on 8-9 August 2009 in Kathmandu, Nepal under the theme “Global Financial Crisis and Implications in South Asia.” The Assembly recognised that the neoliberal economic policies has not only led to the loss of millions of jobs and intensification of poverty in South Asia but has also deprived the South Asian population their rights to life and self-determination. The GA, therefore, called the South Asian Government and the international community to recognise and support the development alternatives initiated by the communities that incorporates the principles of gender justice, ecological sustainability and participatory democracy. It is only under this development paradigm that would fulfil the basic legal, social and economic rights of all citizens in the region.