ECONOMYNEXT – The European parliament adopted a resolution June 10 calling for the repeal of Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and inviting the European Union (EU) Commission to consider temporarily withdrawing Sri Lanka’s access to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concession.
Expressing deep concern over Sri Lanka’s “alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations” as listed by the most recent UN report on the country, the 705-member EU parliament adopted the resolution with 628 votes in favour, 15 against and 40 abstaining.
Citing the UN report, the EU parliament noted early warning signs of “accelerating militarisation of civilian governmental functions, the reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, exclusionary rhetoric, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws”.
Noting the GSP+ concession’s “significant contribution” to Sri Lanka’s economy, from which exports to the island’s second largest export market have increased to EUR 2.3 billion, the parliament called on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take into due account current events when assessing Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status.
“[The resolution] further calls on the Commission and the EEAS to use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA, to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to parliament on this matter as soon as possible,” it said.
Sri Lanka’s preferential access to the European market sees trade tariffs significantly removed for some 66 percent of island nation’s exports including apparel, fisheries, ceramic and rubber.
Sri Lanka regained access to GSP+ in May 2017 on the condition that the country would commit to implementing 27 international conventions on human rights and other aspects of good governance.
The EU resolution noted that the PTA has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslims and minority groups in Sri Lanka, including Ahnaf Jazeem, a 26-year-old Muslim teacher and poet, and Hejaaz Hizbullah, a well-known lawyer for minority rights and the rule of law.
It also expressed concern over the detention of Shani Abeysekara, the former director of the Criminal Investigation Department, urging the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately give those detained a fair trial on valid charges and, if there are no charges, to release them unconditionally.
The EU parliament also “deplores the continuing discrimination against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities and communities in Sri Lanka, including Muslims, Hindus, Tamils and Christians” and calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to “unequivocally condemn hate speech, incitement to violence and discrimination against religious and ethnic groups in the country, and to hold to account those who advance such divisions, including within the government and military.” (Colombo/June11/2021)