The European Commission on Wednesday rejected Sri Lankan accusations that a letter it sent urging the south Asian country to comply with conditions tied to a trade concession agreement was politically motivated.
The European Union’s executive wrote to Colombo on June 17, requesting the government fully comply with and implement provisions of international human rights agreements and the United Nations convention against torture.
For more than a year Sri Lanka has defied Western pressure over accountability for potential war crimes and human rights violations in the last stages of its quarter-century war with the separatist Tamil Tigers, which it won in May 2009.
"The Commission would be grateful to receive from your government, by July 1, a letter containing a firm undertaking to address by the end of the year, the principle outstanding issues," said the letter, seen by Reuters.
"Over the longer term, the European Commission looks forward to addressing the full range of human rights issues with the government of Sri Lanka," it said.
The letter, signed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, had urged Sri Lanka to lift wartime emergency laws that grant the government wide powers of arrest.
Sri Lankan officials rejected the request from the 27-nation EU, saying demands for accountability were fuelled by supporters of the Tamil Tigers. [ID:nSGE65N0AJ]
"To suggest that any decision by the EU in respect of GSP+ (trade concessions) and Sri Lanka is politically motivated and to link it to the elections of this year is entirely false," said John Clancy, the European Commission’s trade spokesman.
"The government of Sri Lanka is very well aware that this is a legal process that began several years ago and to suggest otherwise is simply misleading," he said.
As the July 1 reply deadline looms, the European Union has warned that Sri Lanka risks losing access from Aug. 15 to its biggest export market if it fails to comply.
In February, EU states said they would temporarily withdraw preferential tariff benefits to Sri Lanka under the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) scheme because of concerns about Sri Lanka’s human rights record. [ID:nLDE61E1W0]
The potential loss, worth about 100 million euros ($122 million) annually in exports, would be a blow to Sri Lanka as the country is focused on resurrecting its $42 billion economy.
"We were not prepared to obtain these concessions at any cost. That’s not the attitude of a self-respecting government," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said.