ECONOMYNEXT – The European Union has stressed the need of upholding freedom of opinion and expression and individual rights of Sri Lankan citizens after the military brutally attacked peaceful protesters, a day after President Ranil Wickremesinghe took oath as the leader of the island nation.
The military attacked protesters who were above to hand over the presidential secretariat which they occupied on July 9 just before former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country fearing for his file. The protesters then burnt the private house of then prime minister Wickremesinghe and stormed into the prime minister’s official residence four days later.
Wickremesinghe soon after being elected said legal action will be taken against those who have occupied the public properties like presidential secretariat and prime minister’s official residence.
The military attack has raised concern over President Wickremesinghe’s new government’s handling of the protest. Wickremesinghe in the past has been supportive of the protest and voice against removal of the protesters from the same site.
Protesters have said they do not recognize Wickremesinghe as the country’s president because he never got a people’s mandate. Wickremesinghe was elected as the president by the parliament and he entered the parliament through a bonus seat after losing at the August 2020 parliamentary poll.
“Following Sri Lanka’s Parliament swift action to elect Ranil Wickremesinghe as new President of the country in the wake of President Rajapaksa’s resignation, the EU underlines the need of upholding freedom of opinion and expression and individual rights of Sri Lankan citizens in the process of a democratic, peaceful and orderly transition,” the EU said in a statement.
“In the light of reports of unnecessary violence against protestors, the EU stresses the importance of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and condemns the unwarranted use of force against peaceful demonstrators.”
Wickremesinghe met envoys of the US, UK, Canada, and EU on Friday after the attack. Sources who met him said the new president was more focused on his house and the books, which were burnt by the protesters on July 9 than the bigger political issues.
The EU is Sri Lanka’s major trading partner and its trade concession GSP plus has helped the island nation’s top export garments to earn over $5 billion annually.
The GSP plus is already under review for an extension.
“The re-introduction in 2017 of preferential access to the European Single Market under the GSP+ scheme has been essential for Sri Lanka’s economic development.” it said.
“The EU expects the new Government to work in full compliance with its GSP+ commitments. Current and future cooperation programmes (EUR 70 million) are being aligned with Sri Lanka’s most pressing needs.”
“In addition to delivering medicines through the EU’s Joint Civil Protection Mechanism, member states and the EU are closely monitoring food security on the island in order to fund actions targeting the most vulnerable communities.”
The EU has continuously urged Sri Lanka to address its past human rights violations and take initiatives to prevent such violations in the future as well. The EU insisted to abolish the country’s decades old anti-terrorism law under Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who amended the act to satisfy the bloc.
Sri Lanka is already facing an international probe over its past human rights violations by the United Nations Human Rights Council which has already started gathering evidence.
Diplomats have told Economy Next the brutal attack on protesters is likely to be added to the country’s human rights violation in the upcoming September session. (Colombo/July 23/2022)