The European Parliament in its session on 26th April, 2017 has voted in favour of Sri Lanka rejecting a motion tabled by 52 European Union members to deny the additional tariff concessions approximately 66% on several products including textiles and fisheries imported by European Union members numbering 28 countries. Sri Lanka is expected to net an income of 250 million Rupees an year due to this concession. The issues preceding the voting on April 26th 2017 deserve to be mentioned to question the justification of this vote in favour of Sri Lanka. The European Union sent a delegation to Sri Lanka headed by Jean Lambert in November 2016 to study the ground situation in Sri Lanka regarding human rights and all other matters related to minorities, including torture and impunity, sexual violence, labour rights, working conditions etc.
It is to be noted that “the European Parliament seeks to promote democracy and human rights not only in Europe but also throughout the world and is a fierce defender of human rights, fighting for the rights of the oppressed”, as well. This parliament has 751 members representing 28 countries with a population of about 510 millions. European Union’s criteria for this GSP+ extends only to “countries which ratify and implement core International Conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance”.
The European Commission which recommended the restoring of the GSP+ in January 2017 laid down the following conditions to qualify for restoration. They are “the ratification and implementation of 27 International Conventions which were signed by Sri Lanka, and dealing with international human and labour rights and good governance”.
The European Union specifically mentioned the following matters which need to be addressed, and implemented by Sri Lanka to become eligible for the GSP+ concessions. Full implementation of the 27 International Conventions particularly International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on Enforced Disappearances, repeal of Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] and replacing it with another Bill in accordance with standard international practice and provisions, amending code of criminal procedure, making public the list of former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres held in detention etc. A total of 58 conditions were laid down by the European Union, for implementation by Sri Lanka.
It is a well known fact and truth that Sri Lanka excels in passing legislations to satisfy the minorities as well as the international community. It is also a well known fact that the passed legislations will remain partially implemented or totally left to lay in a coma state awaiting death sooner or later. Examples are the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and the Northern Provincial Council which is limping for survival. Tamil as an official language is yet to attain its status as an official language for its implementation by the government when communicating with the Tamils. Same fate is lying in store for the Office of Missing Persons Act passed in August 2016 but kept in shelves.
It is learnt that the European Union members in the last minute requested the Sri Lankan government to at least replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] and amend the CCPA with another Bill in accordance with international norms. The Sri Lankan Government however was making defiant postures by saying that “the Government will not bow down to any foreign country or organization and will not dance to their tune”. Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Harsha de Silva stated that “Sri Lanka is under no obligation to any foreign body”, obviously referring to European Union and GSP issue.
As usual, a European Union delegation visited Sri Lanka in November 2016 to study the ground situation and submit its findings to the European Union. The delegation head Jean Lambert urged “Sri Lanka to improve human rights conditions including the replacement of its tough anti-terrorism law”. The delegation further said that “much more needs to be achieved, especially related to Office of the Missions Persons and devolving powers to the provinces”. As such, success of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ application depends on meeting the human rights requirements set by the European Union.
A member of the delegation Mr Paul Godfrey who also serves as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives said “clear evidence of progressive measures on human rights is needed before GSP+ return”.
To sum up, European Union in addition to its political and economic goals of unity and strength also plays the role of a “champion of human rights and fighting for the oppressed throughout the world”. It weighs each states record of human rights before extending its assistance in all fields, particularly on GSP+ concessions.
If one looks at the record of Sri Lanka in relation to the European Union’s scale of testing human rights, the reports of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, and the report of UN Human Rights Council are the proofs in the pudding. Sri Lanka’s woeful performance in this matter need not be detailed. However, some need to be mentioned because of their seriousness.
1. The disregard and contemptuous non-compliance and nil implementation of the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 passed on October 1st 2015.
2. The total failure in solving the 60 year old nagging ethnic problem.
3. The defiance and challenges thrown at United Nations, UN Human Rights Council and other organizations including European Union requesting them to not to dare imposing conditions on Sri Lanka, which we consider as an infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and integrity.
It is learnt that European Union made it a pre condition in the last minute, requesting Sri Lanka to at least “replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act before granting the GSP+ and also make the Office of the Missing Persons fully operational, all to be delivered by Sri Lanka within clearly established time limit”. Sri Lanka sensing a way out of the hurdles, due to the softened stand by the European Union, hurriedly sent its Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Harsha de Silva, who earlier blasted European Union by saying that “Sri Lanka is under no obligation to any foreign body”. He took a half -baked secret draft copy of Counter Terrorism Act as the replacement of PTA to the European Union’s attention, the contents of which are still shrouded in secrecy unknown to the world and public.
It is learnt that the European Union expressed its satisfaction and supported Sri Lanka to defeat the motion of 52 European Members who recommended rejection of GSP+ after an onsite in depth study and assessment of the ground realities in Sri Lanka, which were obviously disappointing.
As stated earlier, Sri Lanka is good at passing resolutions and legislations, excels in doling out promises and undertakings, signs and ratifies International Covenants, only to leave them lying in limbo or in a dormant state. For example despite the lapse of ten months, the Office of Missing Persons is yet to find an office to commence its functions.
It is also learnt that the proposed Counter Terrorism Act is containing some provisions which are worse than the ones in PTA. Commenting on this matter, The Sunday Times on April 30th 2017 aptly described the deceit of Sri Lanka by stating that “Sri Lanka has managed to ‘trick’ sympathetic members of European Parliament into signifying approval for a draft Counter Terrorism Act which is far worse than the existing PTA”. Sri Lanka has scored another tainted and hollow victory by cajoling and hoodwinking European Union and its Parliament. But it is hoped that the European Parliament will come to terms with realities and defeat the duplicity of Sri Lanka when it finally votes on May 15th 2017 on this matter. A choice will be between degrading human rights or defending & protecting a Government and allowing it to continue its desecration of human rights in defiance of all UN Conventions, Reports and Resolutions.