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Monday September 20th, 2021
Human Rights

SJB studying alternative to PTA amid “foreign policy failure” of EU resolution on Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT – The main opposition the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) is studying a ‘Protection of National Security’ law drafted by the Law Commission of Sri Lanka as a possible alternative to the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which resulted in a recent European parliament resolution on Sri Lanka.

The SJB said in a statement June 14 that the EU resolution is yet another foreign policy failure of the Sri Lanka government.

“The government’s continued failure and incompetence in the effective management of its foreign relations, and its total bad faith in the enforcement of law in the country, have directly led to the present crisis that confronts the People of Sri Lanka. The recent EU Resolution reflects yet another foreign policy failure of this failed government. While it embarks on pipedream investor forums, the government seems intent on rapidly losing the two largest export markets Sri Lanka already has – the United States and the EU,” the party said.

The June 10 resolution called for the repeal of the PTA and invited the European Union 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

Related: EU parliament adopts resolution on Sri Lanka; wants PTA repealed, GSP+ withdrawn

The SJB said in its statement that a previous attempt to introduce a new counter-terrorism law was mired in controversy. In 2018, the Yahapalana government – of which many in the SJB were then members – submitted a Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) to parliament that was never passed. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration in January 2020 declared its intention to keep the PTA in force, drawing criticism from the Human Rights Watch.

The SJB said the draft Protection of National Security law is a concise and effective piece of legislation compatible with international best practices. The party said it will initiate a process in parliament through which the draft proposals are taken up.

“The SJB is of the firm view that a robust and effective national security framework can be developed without compromising human rights and democracy.”

The government’s failure to manage foreign relations and enforce the law has led to a crisis affecting the public, the party said.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, said June 13 that, if Sri Lanka loses access to the GSP+ trade concession, thousands will lose their jobs and the rupee will further depreciate, forcing Sri Lanka to pay around 300 rupees per US dollar.

Related: Losing GSP+ will spell disaster for Sri Lanka’s economy: former PM Wickremesinghe

(Colombo/June14/2021)

The full text of the SJB statement is as follows:

“The SJB notes the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on ‘the situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act’ on 9 June 2021.

“The resolution observes that ‘the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has been steadily deteriorating, with the new government rapidly backtracking on the limited progress achieved under previous administrations’. It specifically mentions Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and its legacy of abuse leading to serious human rights violations. It mentions in particular the use of the PTA to target vocal critics of the state, including eminent lawyers such as Hejaaz Hizbullah, and artists such as poet Ahnaf Jazeemm, and notes the expansion of the PTA through new regulations issued in March 2021. It also highlights a spate of other major concerns including: discrimination and violence targeting minorities; new proposals to introduce oppressive laws on so-called disinformation; the continued application of archaic criminal law; the acceleration of the militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka; and the apparent failure to institute a rigorous, impartial and complete investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in line with international legal standards.

“The SJB has repeatedly raised concerns with respect to the rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and the racist, xenophobic, and discriminatory policies of the present government. We have condemned the systematic assault on Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions through the introduction of the Twentieth Amendment, and the establishment of commissions of inquiry to target politicians within the Opposition. We have also denounced the targeting of lawyers, media personnel, environmental activists, and government servants for their legitimate criticism of the government. The government is attempting to further curtail democratic freedoms through the introduction of laws to curb so-called disinformation. We see these as nothing more than a cynical attempt to further suppress the People’s freedom of expression. We have also condemned the government’s failure to uncover the real masterminds behind the Easter Sunday Attacks, and have repeatedly called for thorough and impartial investigations into the Attacks.

In this rapidly deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, the EU Resolution invites the European Commission ‘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’. Therefore, following this Resolution, Sri Lanka stands to lose its GSP+ status.

“We recall that Sri Lanka regained concessions under the European Union’s GSP+ trade facility in May 2017. Many Sri Lankan exporters, specifically in the garment industry, have benefitted greatly as a direct result of the tariff concessions offered under this facility. One simple condition under which this facility was given was that Sri Lanka takes steps to revise certain problematic sections of the PTA to make them compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The specific sections were mentioned in a letter sent by the European Commission to the former Minister of External Affairs on 17 June 2010. The Government of Sri Lanka succeeded in regaining GSP+ concessions in 2017 only based on solemn commitments to repeal or amend those specific provisions of the PTA, or replace the PTA with a new counter-terrorism law that is compatible with international best practices.

“Today, the People of Sri Lanka stand to lose the vital support of the European Union because the present government has failed to honour its commitments. Although the present Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has stated in public that the PTA must be revised, the government has failed to introduce any meaningful process to revise the PTA or replace it with a law that is compatible with international best practices. Instead of reforming the PTA, it has exacerbated the crisis by introducing regulations that further expand its scope. We note that these new regulations permit authorities to place suspects in so-called rehabilitation programmes without the need to lead any evidence of wrongdoing before a competent court.

“The government’s continued failure and incompetence in the effective management of its foreign relations, and its total bad faith in the enforcement of law in the country, have directly led to the present crisis that confronts the People of Sri Lanka. The recent EU Resolution reflects yet another foreign policy failure of this failed government. While it embarks on pipedream investor forums, the government seems intent on rapidly losing the two largest export markets Sri Lanka already has – the United States and the EU.

“The SJB, as the main Opposition party in Parliament, does not merely wish to point out the failings of the present government without offering viable solutions. We note that the previous attempt to introduce a new counter-terrorism law was mired in controversy. However, we note that the Sri Lanka Law Commission, a body comprising eminent members of Sri Lanka’s legal fraternity, has produced a draft law on the Protection of National Security, which is a concise and effective piece of legislation that is compatible with international best practices. The SJB is currently studying the Law Commission’s proposals, and will endeavour to initiate a process in parliament through which these proposals are taken up.

“The SJB is of the firm view that a robust and effective national security framework can be developed without compromising human rights and democracy.”

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