Giving freedoms to the people of Sri Lanka, ending white vans, helped get back GSP+: Eran

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has given back freedoms and better governance to citizens in line with promises made by the current regime, helping get back GSP+ trade benefits, Deputy Enterprise Minister Eran Wickramaratne said.

The current administration came to power on the promise of restoring fundamental freedoms to the people and rule of law. These freedoms were being improved regardless of whether GSP+ was involved, because it was a promise made to the people, Wickramaratne said.

Though Sri Lanka had signed a number of international agreements dealing with rights and freedoms of citizens in the past, going back 10 to 30 years in some instances in several areas these were not available to citizens in practice, he said.

The agreements were in place during the last regime and even earlier, but some of the rights were denied to citizens, he said.

"For example when a person is arrested, he should be entitled to legal counsel immediately," Wickramaratne said.

"In our existing processes immediate access to a lawyers is not clearly given to the people.

"In Sri Lanka there was a time when people were taken away in white vans, let alone access to lawyers."

"How can someone object to improving the legal rights of citizens?" he asked.

Wickramaratne said other covenants dealt with improving the rights and equal treatment of women. Another was a convention on the rights of the child.

"Is anyone objecting to giving equal rights to women and ending child labour?" Wickramaratne questioned.





Other covenants Sri Lanka had to show compliance involved labour rights and the environment.

Some of the international treaties involved had been signed by Sri Lanka four decades ago, he said,

Other requirements involved the environment.

There were seven treaties dealing with human rights, eight on labour rights, 11 on the environment and one on corruption that Sri Lanka had signed over the years, Wickramaratne said.

These rights and protections had been demanded by rights and environmental activists in Sri Lanka for decades and they had fought for them.

"For example we have to make sure that there is no torture, that there is no cruel and unusual punishments and degrading treatment of citizens," Wickramaratne said.

"Do people who are raising objections want cruel and unusual punishments and torture?"

"What we have done improves the freedom of our citizens," Wickramaratne said. "Our democracy is improved."

The British built a European-style nation-state in Sri Lanka with the ability make laws quickly through a parliament and implement them by the use of a centralized police and a network of courts and jails, giving wide powers to the elected rulers and the state over unarmed citizens.

Freedom activists say unless citizens are watchful, the elected ruling class may tend to enact ‘laws’ which are unjust and discriminatory, which violate the rules of natural justice and are in fact not just laws but a simply ‘sovereign commands’ which do not deserve to be called ‘laws’.

Political philosophers say any modern state primarily functions through its coercive powers and a monopoly in violence which is enforced by an armed police, the military or both.

Without strong protections to citizens to check the arbitrary actions of a European-style state, with its machinery to deploy coercive power over the people, unarmed citizens are in grave danger, they say.

Meanwhile, Wickramaratne said Sri Lanka applied got the GSP+ over a decade ago and only a handful of countries have the benefit.

"Even if we get this benefit for only three or six years it will give the required kick start to boost exports and investments," he said.

According to statements already made by business chambers, even existing industries were negotiating new orders based on the expectation of GSP+.

Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva had said that rules to restore GSP+ to Sri Lanka may be issued as early as two weeks from now. (Colombo/May12/2017)


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