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FeaturesNewsGranting GSP + to Sri Lanka would be a trophy for neglecting its HR promises – German human rights orgs

Granting GSP + to Sri Lanka would be a trophy for neglecting its HR promises – German human rights orgs

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Image: Protesting people of Kepapulavu, Mullaithevu against military occupation of their land. credit- Garikaalan.

Writing letter to European Union and its relevant officials,  a network of German human rights organizations has called for a deferral of granting GSP + to Sri Lanka if the GoSL not prepared to substantially ‘deliver’ in time and in concrete terms. The letter suggests that Sri Lanka be given  an additional time of six months in order to start fulfilling at least the immediate tasks mentioned in the previous paragraph. The scenario of a possible deferral of GSP (+) should be directed by keeping the reform process alive, including the Constitutional Reform.

The letter has been signed by Dr. Theodor Rathgeber on behalf of the Sri Lanka Advocacy, Germany.

The letter has been endorsed by Shreen Abdul Saroor on behalf of the Mannar Women’s Development Federation and Women’s Action Network and Sudarshana Gunawardana, Executive Director at Rights Now Collective for Democracy.

The letter says that  the network “does not principally deny the rational of arguing against granting GSP (+) at this stage while we still believe that the GSP (+) procedure is a useful instrument to set a practical incentive to make the GOSL implementing its human rights obligation better. We share our partners’ anxiety that GOSL would not implement even minimal agreements reached without external encouragement. We strongly believe that the international community including the United Nations Human Rights mechanisms as well as the GSP (+) procedure should be a stepping stone towards implementation of the GOSL’s commitment in relation to accountability, rule of law and transitional justice.”

In case that GSP (+) might be granted to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Advocay  would expect substance which can be fulfilled in such a timeframe, such as,

  • immediately setting up of OMP with credible and independent commissioners while revoking the restricting amendment to section 11 of the OMP ruling,
  • the release of people’s land specially in the North and East that are occupied by the military and various state agencies,
  • canceling the recent declaration of about 40,000 acres of people’s traditional lands as forest reserve at Musali divisional secretariat of Mannar district that takes away internally displaced persons’ collective return to this area,
  • amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act to ensure detainees get the access to the lawyers,
  • to replace PTA and CCPA and to address the shortcomings in the proposed CTA draft.

The next reporting period for all GSP (+)-benefitting countries will be concluded in January 2018. That means, the drafting of the report will start already in November 2017.

Read the full text of the letter sent by Sri Lanka Advocacy:

European Parliament.

EEAS,

EC DG Trade,

……….

We, a network of German human rights organizations, have been critically observing the governance and human rights situations in Sri Lanka since 2010 and supported a number of human rights defenders from the country including all major ethnic and religious communities. We provided them a platform to air their option and concerns till today.

Thus, we learned that a large part of our partners acknowledge the positive constitutional, political and legal changes occurred in the past 28 months in Sri Lanka. They have preferred a strategy of engagement and dialogue with the government while they also concur that there should be international monitoring, assistance and pressure as well in order to make the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) realized that it should really engage in reforms. We further acknowledge the ambiguity that the government will get weaker if it will not be able to improve the economic situation, and if the government gets weaker, the political opposition in Sri Lanka led by the Rajapaksa faction will get stronger; what would be definitively an undesirable consequence. One of the instruments for improving the economic situation will be getting the European Union’s grant GSP Plus (+) combined with the expectation of further investments into Sri Lankan economy and infrastructure.

In Sri Lanka there is a large bandwidth of opinions on re-establishing the GSP (+) agreement with the European Union. Those in favor of granting GSP (+) underline the prevalence of trust and confidence on the government to fulfill its promise on the transitional justice process and the constitutional reforms, and on handling the reform and transitional processes in a fair, impartial, victim-centered and timely manner though skepticism is increasing. Till today, the promised transitional mechanisms have poorly got established, such as the fate of missing persons be ascertained, that land taken over by the military during the war be returned, accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity be ensured and the security sector reform including demilitarization and replacement of oppressive laws – like replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – take place.

The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has been doubtless a progress in institutional terms but we have been recently told that even the establishment of the OMP as such might be postponed to June 2018. Up to this moment, the President refused to sign the gazette notification on the advice of the Sri Lankan military and defense. In addition, the political party JVP proposed an amendment accepted by the government of Sri Lanka. According to the amendment Section 11 paragraph (a) should be deleted which originally would have given power to the OMP to enter into agreements with any other person or organization, including external expertise. The constitutional reform process seems to be dragging. The entire process of political reforms seems to be paralyzed.

Our partners are communicating that their engagement with the GOSL is turning into a ride on the edge. For instance, the moderate section of the Tamil National Alliance is losing trust among its people. There are many street protests and hunger strikes by women and displaced persons demanding for accountability on disappeared family members and release of land occupied by the military in the North. Some of our partners have communicated that under such conditions GSP (+) would simply serve as trophy for the government and might encourage the GOSL to continue neglecting its promises towards its citizens and the international cooperation.

We do not principally deny the rational of arguing against granting GSP (+) at this stage while we still believe that the GSP (+) procedure is a useful instrument to set a practical incentive to make the GOSL implementing its human rights obligation better. We share our partners’ anxiety that GOSL would not implement even minimal agreements reached without external encouragement. We strongly believe that the international community including the United Nations Human Rights mechanisms as well as the GSP (+) procedure should be a stepping stone towards implementation of the GOSL’s commitment in relation to accountability, rule of law and transitional justice.

However, granting GSP (+) benefits back to Sri Lanka cannot be considered to be a mechanical process. We have learned that the European Commission’s DG Trade is going to draft a List of Issues to be shared with the GOSL in order to agree on steps to be taken. We are of the opinion that such list should not be restricted to EU’s previous 15 point criteria. The List of Issues should be addressing current concerns such as: fate of missing persons, denial of land rights of the people by the military, the matter of accountability, the reform of the security sector, the (unfulfilled) recommendations by CERD, CAT, CEDAW or ICCPR. The list should further address national laws and rules conflicting with international standards; such as PTA that clearly violates ICCPR, CAT and CERD as well as the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act running against the UN Child Rights Convention.

The next reporting period for all GSP (+)-benefitting countries will be concluded in January 2018. That means, the drafting of the report will start already in November 2017. In case that GSP (+) might be granted to Sri Lanka, we would expect substance which can be fulfilled in such a timeframe, such as

  • immediately setting up of OMP with credible and independent commissioners while revoking the restricting amendment to section 11 of the OMP ruling,
  • the release of people’s land specially in the North and East that are occupied by the military and various state agencies,
  • canceling  the recent declaration of about 40,000 acres of people’s traditional lands as forest reserve at Musali divisional secretariat of Mannar district that takes away internally displaced persons’ collective return to this area,
  • amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act to ensure detainees get the access to the lawyers,
  • to replace PTA and CCPA and to address the shortcomings in the proposed CTA draft.

If the GOSL is not prepared to substantially ‘deliver’ in time and in concrete terms, the grant on GSP (+) would indeed end as a mere trophy. Under such condition, we believe that another deferral is a necessary next step. The UN Human Rights Council has agreed by Resolution 34/1 that the GOSL be given a two-year extension to meet its commitments of Resolution 30/1. It is our understanding that the government has declared its willingness to deliver what it has promised though in a larger timeframe. We suggest to make use of this approach and to give the GOSL an additional time of six months in order to start fulfilling at least the immediate tasks mentioned in the previous paragraph. The scenario of a possible deferral of GSP (+) should be directed by keeping the reform process alive, including the Constitutional Reform.

One more remark on the methodology of the monitoring process. The procedural design of GSP (+) cannot be a routine either. The country evaluation of the conditions on the ground needs to be adapted to good practice, such as the experience made with the Consultation Task Force on reconciliation mechanisms appointed by the Prime Minister. We were told at our Brussels meetings that such a procedural design might be too costly and should neither go beyond the routine set for all GSP (+) countries. We believe that every country requires an evaluation genuine to its circumstances. The reality in Sri Lanka cannot be revealed in Colombo alone. In addition, the evaluation should consider an institutionalized participation of civil society actors and human rights defenders on the reporting system; similar to the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. This also would help to uphold a human-rights based language and assessment of the prevailing situation.

The situation in Sri Lanka in relation to human rights and political power balance is delicate and requires a sensitive approach. We learned through the UN human rights mechanisms how an international involvement can be made successful. We would expect that the EU reflects these standards. Otherwise, it may be really better to postpone or to abstain from granting GSP (+) to the GOSL.

This letter is written in our effort to reflect and uphold the rights in particular of the war affected communities who are very courageously demanding justice in the streets of Sri Lanka and in the international arena. We must use the opportunity in our hands to ensure that the GOSL abide by its promises. We are afraid that otherwise the ground reality is becoming more fertile for various extremisms to grow.

Please, feel free to request further information or clarification.

Sincerely,

Theodor Rathgeber

Sri Lanka Advocacy, Germany

Endorsed by

Shreen Abdul Saroor

Mannar Women’s Development Federation and Women’s Action Network

Sudarshana Gunawardana

Executive Director at Rights Now Collective for Democrac

 

 

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