The UK’s High Commissioner Sarah Hulton met with Sri Lankan Public Security Minister Rear Admiral…
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The European Union (EU) has adopted its own resolution on Sri Lanka, with the proposition of removing them from GSP + status. This follows closely behind the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that passed in March, and the United States Congress’ resolution introduction on Sri Lanka which was sent to the Foreign Affairs Committee on May 18, 2021.
The EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences assists developing countries by removing customs duties on items entering the EU. Sri Lanka is one of eight countries with GSP + status, meaning tariffs are at zero percent as long as the country follows 27 international standards pertaining to human rights, labor rights, maintaining a green environment, and good governance. This status has helped Sri Lanka’s government immensely, and it is their second largest export.
The EU keeps a close watch on countries with GSP + status. The European Parliament even mentioned a temporary withdrawal of the status as well as its benefits and for the EU Commission to report back to Parliament on this as soon as possible.
The European Parliament had received the United Nations most recent report on human rights violations in Sri Lanka and was concerned. Out of 705 legislative members, 628 voted in favor, 15 were against it, and 40 abstained.
The EU calls for the repeal of Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which has been in place since 1979 but has added two recent regulations in March of this year. They were the banning of 11 Islamic organizations and the addition of deradicalization programs which ultimately target minorities such as Muslims and Tamils. The PTA has also had many reports of torture, forced confessions, and sexual abuse. The Resolution also calls for the immediate suspension of the deradicalization regulations. Previous deradicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration centers in Sri Lanka under similar policies were filled with human rights violations, such as torture and sexual and gender-based violence, the document continued.
Instead of the PTA, the EU has suggested the government implement other anti-terrorism policies that are more compatible with international law. Parliament is concerned with the rise of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, lack of accountability, and removal of constitutional protections.
Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality told the Colombo Page that she and other members of the EU have recognized the PTA has been used to detain activists, writers and more. She said that anyone who is detained needs to be judged fairly and if they are not charged, they need to be released.
The Resolution mentions by name PTA detainees poet Ahnaf Jazeem, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, and former director of the Central Investigation Department Shani Abeysekara.
Within the text, there is concern of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and Resolution asks for the government to condemn hate speech, incitement to violence, and discrimination against these groups. Those who commit these crimes should be held accountable, including military and government, it states.
There has been a recent upsurge in militarization of the civilian government. Since last year, at least 28 active or former members of the military have been appointed to key positions. At least two of them have been implicated in UN reports of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP)
European Parliament resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act