Commemorating the International Day of Non-Violence 2008

Your Excellency Ambassador Lata Reddy,
Distinguished ACPR representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured and pleased to address you today on the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence to reaffirm Mahatma Gandhi's everlasting message of peace, justice and non-violence.

The occasion is also personally important to me as I had the wonderful privilege of visiting the Samadhi of the Mahatma during my visit to India earlier this year, and it was a very special experience.

The celebration of his birthday today as the International day of Non-Violence gives us an opportunity to reflect on the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region through the eyes of a great leader, Mahatma Gandhi. I would like to reflect briefly on Mahatma Gandhi's perception of the human condition and of development in this diverse region as it underdoes globalization and rapid change.

Gandhi believed that the worst form of violence is poverty, discrimination and the social exclusion of people. The violence of poverty and violence against women and children still haunts us today. The record card on Asia and the Pacific in reducing poverty is impressive, but a lot remains to be done. Despite becoming the fastest growing region in the world with remarkable reductions in income poverty, the Asia-Pacific region continues to be home to over 640 million people living in extreme poverty. The growing development gaps, with exclusion along the fault lines of ethnicity, religion, gender, caste and class, must be addressed if we want to build strong foundations for social stability and real peace.

The key way, as Mahatma Gandhi had emphasized, is empowering people, especially the very poor and women. True economics, Mahatma Gandhi said, stands for social justice. It promotes the good of all equally, including the most excluded, and is critical for decent life. In our times, it means there is a need to examine in a more integrated way the economic and social policies for inclusive and sustainable development, and the need to invest in health and education, social protection and skill development for decent employment. The region has a lot to gain by adapting Gandhi’s principles of empowerment and agency of the poor and women in policies and action. These principles emphasize a "bottom-up" approach to accountable governance, as the "trickle-down" approach to economic growth does not always reach the excluded of society. By intensifying efforts for accountable governance based on social justice, we can ensure that, by 2015, 23 million more children will not suffer from hunger; close to one million more children would survive beyond their fifth birthday, and four million more children would get a basic education.

Although during the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi, there were no wide-ranging debates on the environment per se, he was nevertheless much ahead of his time on the ecological concerns we have today. His very simple and sustainable lifestyle reminds us that we have borrowed this earth from our children and that the future of humanity depends to a large extent on how well we manage our earth. He reminded us that there is enough for our needs but never enough for our greed. Today his message is critical to the Asia-Pacific challenge of finding the right balance between economic growth, social
development and ecological sustainability.

On this special day, let us all re-commit ourselves to fulfilling the vision of the Great Man and strive to build an integrated framework of economy, society and ecology, with Gandhi’s message of peace, justice and non-violence providing the anchor for our efforts. As the Mahatma said “There can be no lasting peace without development and no sustainable development without full equality between men and women.” His vision lives on.

I thank you.