The EU has announced today that Sri Lanka will receive GSP Plus from 19th May, 2017
This is despite the Government not conforming to two conditions that the EU had earlier said, should be demonstrated before the suspension of GSP Plus was lifted. These two conditions related to the public releasing of an internationally compliant draft Counter-Terrorism Act (CTA) and a draft Amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, both of which had to be tabled before Parliament.
In both these cases, the leaked versions of the drafts revealed significant problems with their contents. In the case of the draft CTA, the leaked version by the Sunday Times recently indicated that the offence of espionage had been surreptitiously slipped in while omitting the term ‘espionage.’
The draft CTA terrorizes the ‘gathering of confidential information’ if it adversely affects public security and contradicts the Right to Information Act of 2016. Sri Lanka’s RTI Act, hailed as the third best in the world, has several restrictions on giving of information including national security but leaves out ‘public security’ as a ground on which a denial can be based due to the unclear meaning of that term. In addition the CTA terrorizes any person who writes or speaks in a way that harms ‘unity’ despite this term also being unclear as legal experts have pointed out.
Where the CCP amendment is concerned, this still leaves discretion in the hands of the police to refuse immediate legal counsel to suspects.
Former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice Nihal Jayawickrama called the draft ‘horrendous’ saying that he felt sick after reading it. He professed doubt that this draft could have had the involvement of Sri Lankan experts. Prominent legal analyst and a member of Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Commission Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena fiercely critiqued the Cabinet approved CTA to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), pointing out that this proposed a ‘cure that was far worse than the disease.’
The CTA’s clauses that give the power to issue detention orders to ‘common or garden path Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGs) advised by the Officer-in-Charge (OIC)’ was pointed to be a clear incentive to torture of detainees. Blisteringly critical of ‘blinkered negotiations’ so far, Pinto-Jayawardena asked as to how any faith could be placed in effective ‘monitoring’ to ensure revisions to the draft even though this had been promised by the EU through a Working Committee after the additional tariff preference was granted.
GSP Plus was suspended in 2010 under the Rajapaksa Presidency after an Experts Report castigated Sri Lanka’s Rule of Law record. For example, the report found that though a domestic law prohibiting torture was enacted in 1994, this has had little impact due to bad investigations, lackadaisical prosecutions and a legal system plagued with delays and other failures.
It was also concluded that the judicial and administrative infrastructure was neither adequate nor effective in regard to providing a remedy for violations of rights. The suspension had adverse consequences as the EU had been Sri Lanka’s biggest export market accounting for nearly one-third of the country’s global exports with apparel being key.
Announcing the lifting of the suspension today, the EU stated in a press release that ‘this is also a vote of confidence from the European Union that the Sri Lankan Government will maintain the progress it has made in implementing the international conventions. At the same time, no one is pretending that the situation is perfect. The process of replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Act still needs to be completed.’
Meanwhile the Government has come under severe criticism by the public for its ‘cutting and pasting’ laws from other countries without adequate local vetting and public consultations. However, local civil interest groups, including the Friday Forum and Colombo non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been noticeably silent. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has stated that it had not been consulted on the CTA despite the consultation being required by the HRCSL law.