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Sri Lanka Savaged

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 27 June 2010 09:45 No Comment]

The Generalised System of Preference (GSP) is a trade agreement in which the European Union gives 176 countries and territories, preferential access to the EU market. By reducing the tariff on goods entering the market, the EU’s main priority is to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development and good governance. There is no expectation or requirement that this form of access is reciprocated.

Under GSP+, Sri Lanka receives, among 15 other countries, additional benefits, which can be withdrawn if the EU finds that the country does not respect the criteria for eligibility. Sri Lanka has hugely benefited by the opportunities offered by GSP+, especially in the clothing and fisheries sector. In 2008, the imports to EU from Sri Lanka totalled 1.24 billion Euros.  The agreement, which is subject to renewal every three years, places emphasis on human rights and labour laws within the country.  Sri Lanka will lose this facility on August 15.

The EU informed the Sri Lankan Government last week that it is willing to extend  the GSP+ benefits for another six months on the condition that the government provide a  written commitment by July 1 to implement 15 conditions — all of them relating to human rights and good governance. In February this year, the EU member states decided to withdraw GSP+ for Sri Lanka stating that the country had not followed through with three UN human rights conventions that were relevant to receive benefits from the scheme.

The suspension was deemed temporary as it was considered an incentive to support the improvement of human rights in Sri Lanka. Since the suspension takes six months to be implemented, Sri Lanka has been given that time to address the problems that have been identified by the European Commission. The investigation which was conducted from October 2008 to October 2009, found that Sri Lanka had significant shortcomings with regard to three covenants; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These three, among 27 international conventions are essential qualifying criteria for GSP+.

Delegations were sent to Brussels in order to negotiate these terms on March 16-17 and May 20-21 this year. The delegation, which included P. B. Jayasundara, Romesh Jayasinghe and Mohan Peiris, had several rounds of talks with the EU. However, no concrete decision was made. Last Wednesday President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced at the Cabinet meeting that Sri Lanka would not be committing to the demands made by the EU since they deal with internal politics rather than international trade.

The conditions, 15 in all, include the release of those imprisoned under Emergency Regulations and repeal of some sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which are incompatible with the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The President stated that the EU had no right to interfere in the matters of a sovereign state and added that Sri Lanka does not need the GSP+ concession, even though it is estimated that 100,000 workers will be directly affected if the agreement is not extended.
The Conditions

1.    Reduction in the number of derogations to the ICCPR.

2.     Take steps to ensure that the key objective of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, namely to provide for independent and impartial appointments to key public positions, is fully safeguarded, including through a Constitutional Council which adequately reflects the interests of all political, ethnic and religious groups and minorities within Sri Lankan society.

3.     Repeal the remaining part of the 2005 Emergency Regulations, notably those regulations concerning detention without trial, restrictions on freedom of movement, ouster of jurisdiction and immunity and repeals of the 2006 Emergency Regulations (Gazette No 1474/5/2006). If GoSL considers that it is essential to retain certain provisions which are compatible with the ICCPR or UNCAT, such as provisions concerning possession of weapons, such provisions should be transferred to the Criminal Code.

4.    Repeal those sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which are incompatible with the ICCPR (in particular, Sections 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16 and 26) or amendment so as to make them clearly compatible with the ICCPR.

5. Repeal of the outer clause in Section 8 and the immunity clause in Section 9 of the Public Security Ordinance or amendment so as to make them clearly compatible with the ICCPR.

6.  Adoption of the planned amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provide for the right of a suspect to see a lawyer immediately following his arrest.

7. Legislative steps necessary to allow individuals to submit complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee under the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and to the UN Committee against Torture under Article 22.

8. Steps to implement outstanding opinions of the UN Human Rights Committee in individual cases.

9. Extension of an invitation to the following UN Special Rapporteurs who have requested to visit Sri Lanka (UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers).

10. Responses to a significant number of individual cases currently pending before the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

11. Publication of the final report of the 2008 Commission of Enquiry.

12. Publication or making available to family members a list of the former LTTE combatants currently held in detention as well as all other persons detained under the Emergency Regulations. Decisive steps to bring to an end the detention of any persons held under the Emergency Regulations either by releasing them or by bringing them to trial.

13. Granting of access to all places of detention for monitoring purposes to an independent humanitarian organisation, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

14. Adoption of the National Human Rights Action Plan by Parliament and its prompt implementation.

15. Take steps to ensure journalists can exercise their professional duties without harassment.

[Full Coverage]

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