ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka regrets the June 10 European parliamentary resolution on the island nation and rejects claims that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has been used for the arbitrary arrest of minorities, the foreign ministry said citing alleged factual inaccuracies and an incognizance of progress made with regard to reconciliation and development.
At a briefing session between Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and the Chargé d’Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) and other officials in Colombo June 14 morning, the foreign ministry noted that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is revisiting provisions in the PTA as has already been communicated to the EU.
“The government is studying existing legislation to propose necessary amendments, and will also draw on international best practices adopted by other jurisdictions. The government rejects the claim that the PTA has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslim or other minority groups in Sri Lanka,” the ministry said in a statement.
The resolution adopted by the European parliament 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.
The foreign ministry claimed that provisions of the PTA have been invoked to address “heinous acts of terrorism committed” on Sri Lankans. The ministry also recalled the 2019 Easter attacks that “resulted in significant loss of life, including of several EU nationals (sic)”.
Commenting on the 20th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, another key focus of the resolution, the foreign ministry said the amendment was enacted in full compliance with the procedure set out in the constitution with a two thirds parliamentary majority voting for it.
“With regard to such legislation, a number of in-built safeguards relating to transparency and judicial review aimed at preventing the passage of bills that are inconsistent with the constitution, including its Fundamental Rights chapter, have been adhered to,” the ministry said.
“The government has, in accordance with its constitutional mandate and international obligations, taken steps to protect the rights of all its citizens. Specific provisions in terms of Article 12 (1) of Sri Lanka’s Constitution ensure that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. Article 12 (2) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.”
Despite these constitutional guarantees, however, opposition parties and human rights activists continue to accuse the government of unequal application of the law.
The Foreign Ministry in its statement remains noncommittal about the arrest of minority rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and 26-year-old poet Ahnaf Jazeem, both of whom the European parliament has drawn attention to in its resolution. The government is also facing criticism over a move to criminalise what the police may arbitrarily deem falsehoods or “fake news” on social media.
The foreign ministry further said, with regard to reconciliation efforts, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, the Office of Missing Persons, the Office of Reparations, the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and related institutional reforms aimed at non-recurrence and other confidence building measures are in place.
“With regard to sustainable development, the inter-ministerial committee headed by the Prime Minister to steer SDG implementation is of significance.”
Noting Sri Lanka’s “high labour standards”, the ministry said a high demand for ‘ethical’ products from Sri Lanka has led to increased production, subsequent investment, and improvement of the human capital in Sri Lanka.
“The EU GSP+ concessions have contributed significantly towards this process, thus benefitting the Sri Lankan economy, as well as the EU market. Similarly, the fishery sector is a notable growth sector which has benefited from EU GSP+ concessions,” it said.
The ministry went on to say that Sri Lanka, like much of the world, is dealing with numerous challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this backdrop, the statement said, the GOSL appreciates the commitment of global multilateral institutions and UN agencies to uphold the economic, social and cultural rights of all peoples, which are intrinsically linked to civil and political rights.
“Sri Lanka’s commitment to upholding human rights continues in tandem with its current priorities of inoculating its targeted population, providing healthcare and economic revival,” it said.
“In these critical times, Sri Lanka should be supported in safeguarding the rights of its people, while taking cognizance of demonstrated progress on the ground. The GoSL looks forward to continuing its partnership with the EU on a broad range of issues, and reassures the EU of its continued commitment to engage proactively and productively on areas of mutual interest,” it added. (Colombo/June15/2021)