ECONOMYNEXT –An expert committee report on possible amendments to Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) will be ready for perusal by a European Union (EU) delegation that’s due to visit the island on September 27 to consider the continuation of a 500 million US dollar trade concession, Foreign Ministry Secretary Jayanath Colombage said on Thursday (16).
The European parliament in June adopted a resolution to consider withdrawing this trade concession known as the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus as Sri Lanka failed to repeal the PTA as agreed in 2017.
Losing GSP plus could be detrimental to the exports and overall economy of Sri Lanka which is struggling on both domestic and external fronts and is facing a risk of sovereign default after a raft of rating downgrades by all three global rating agencies.
The European parliament has said 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.
Colombage in a virtual press briefing said a European Union delegation with regard to GSP Plus is coming to Sri Lanka on September 27 and will meet the president, prime minister, foreign minister and other officials.
“We are waiting for the EU delegation. We are not scared. There is nothing to hide. We are quite open to them,” he said.
The official said the government has already appointed an expert committee including military, intelligence and legal experts to look into key concerns raised by the EU on the PTA which was originally mooted in 1979 to curb threats of terrorism.
“I am hoping the final report of the expert committee will come up with a very good report today or tomorrow,” Colombage said.
“As the foreign ministry, we have highlighted the concerns of the PTA.”
“Now the defence and judiciary are addressing these concerns and see how best to revisit the PTA and come out with necessary amendments whilst maintaining national security – how best we can transform this and carry forward until we have a new act.”
The EU delegation visit will take place two weeks after the UN Human Rights chief raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s continued human rights violations and said her office has started to implement an international probe on the island nation’s human rights violations.
Sri Lanka has rejected such external initiatives and said its domestic process to address the past human rights violations is adequate.
The European Parliament in March 2021 said Sri Lanka had expanded the PTA and allowed for two years of detention without trial for detainees accused of causing religious, racial, or communal disharmony.
“Now the GSP Plus is actually centered around the PTA,” Colombage said.
“Earlier, the suggestion was that we repeal it. No country can live without counter terrorism or prevention of terrorism act.”
“Look at New Zealand, what a peaceful country [it was]. Now they will tighten counter terrorism laws. Many countries in the world have these kinds of laws.”
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) has refused to heed the advice of Western nations, the European Union and the United Nations to address its past alleged human rights violations including alleged war crimes in the final months of the 26-year war that ended in 2009.
However, difficult economic conditions have forced the current government to at least partially fulfil some international requests in order to secure investments and GSP Plus.
Colombage said Sri Lanka has already responded to some concerns raised by the EU.
“We have already answered some of their questions and unofficially we are told that they are satisfied with the answers,” he said.
“Our PTA was created in 1979. It’s been on its journey and it’s done its service.”
“There are certain things that are international humanitarian and human rights best practices. Now we are determined to answer. We are determined to find a solution and to find a way forward.” (Colombo/Sep16/2021)