The Sunday Leader

EU Keeps Close Watch On CTA Post GSP

by Easwaran Rutnam

EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Tung-Laï Margue and Brad Adams

With the granting of GSP plus to Sri Lanka the European Union (EU) is keeping a close watch on the new Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) which will replace the highly controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Tung-Laï Margue said that the EU has seen the draft Counter Terrorism Act but it is awaiting the final document to give its views.

Some human rights groups, civil society and Tamil political parties have raised concerns over the draft document of the CTA.

Margue said granting of GSP plus to Sri Lanka does not mean all is perfect and a strict monitoring process is being followed.

The issue of torture of detainees arrested under the PTA is among the matters being closely followed by the EU.

Head of the Political, Trade and Communication Section of the Delegation of the EU in Sri Lanka Paul Godfrey said that the current government has admitted there is an issue on torture and it is being looked into.

This is in comparison to the former government which refused to accept that torture was widely taking place in Sri Lanka.

The European Union removed a significant part of the remaining import duties on Sri Lankan products with effect from Friday, May 19. This is in exchange for the country’s commitment to effectively implement 27 international conventions that it has ratified on human rights, labour conditions, protection of the environment and good governance.

These one-way trade preferences will consist of the full removal of duties on 66% of tariff lines, covering a wide array of products including textiles and fisheries.

These preferences come under the special arrangement of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences, known as GSP plus. This supports developing countries by fostering their economic development through increased trade with Europe, and providing incentives to take tangible measures towards sustainable development.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in a statement last week that granting GSP plus to Sri Lanka aims to provide the opportunity to develop further economically, including creating more and better jobs for all Sri Lankans, on a sound foundation that advances human and labour rights, and in a manner that is environmentally sustainable. It is also a vote of confidence from the European Union that the Sri Lankan government will maintain the progress it has made in implementing the international conventions.

“At the same time, no one is pretending that the situation is perfect. The process of replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Act still needs to be completed. There are still too many incidents of torture, there are still children being forced into marriage, there are still laws that discriminate against sections of Sri Lankan society. We want to see an end to these practices. The EU will work closely with the Government and Non-Governmental Organisations to rigorously monitor progress”.

When the EU grants access to the GSP+ scheme, it does not necessarily mean that the beneficiary country is implementing the 27 international conventions in a fully satisfactory way. Instead, the scheme offers the incentive of better access to the EU market for the country’s exporters, in return for further progress in fully implementing those conventions.

It also means the EU can engage with the beneficiary country on all areas where implementation is unsatisfactory. The EU will remove customs duties for Sri Lanka while rigorously monitoring the country’s progress in pursuing sustainable development, respect for human rights and good governance, in close cooperation with all stakeholders.

The EU is also working with the government of Sri Lanka to support the development of SMEs and better enable them to export to the European market. The EU will build on its existing work with the Government and partners in civil society to ensure that the benefits of GSP+ accrue to as wide a section of the population as possible. This includes communities in the north and east of the country that were most affected by civil war and areas in the south that have historically been the poorest.

The Sri Lankan government applied for GSP+ in July 2016. This decision confirms that Sri Lanka meets the GSP+ entry criteria set out in the EU Regulation. The granting of GSP+ preferences to Sri Lanka entered into force on 18 May 2017.

Sri Lanka had benefited from GSP+ previously. But in 2010 the EU decided to stop giving preferential treatment to Sri Lankan imports because the government had failed to address reported human rights violations in the country. In 2015, the new government embarked on major reforms aiming to achieve national reconciliation, and respect for human rights, the rule of law and good governance, as well as sustainable economic development.

Sri Lanka has taken major steps to improve governance and respect for human rights. One example is the 19th constitutional amendment, which re-establishes the independence of key institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission.

Sri Lanka has also acted to ensure cases of missing persons are examined, offer better protection of witnesses and victims, release people detained under controversial anti-terrorism regulations and combat child labour.

In addition Sri Lanka has re-engaged with the UN system, in particular the UN Human Rights Council, where it has made commitments to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights. And it has achieved most of its Millennium Development Goals, especially in health, education and gender equality.

At the same time, more needs to be done on issues of concern. The EU says Sri Lanka must ensure its counter-terrorism legislation is fully in line with international human rights conventions.

As a matter of priority, it must also put a definitive stop to the use of torture by security forces and the related impunity.

The government must also adopt policy and legislative processes to improve the rights of women and children, for example with regard to discrimination, domestic violence, minimum age of marriage and sexual exploitation.

Those processes must also address the issue of harassment of trade unions. All of these issues will be subject to GSP+ monitoring to ensure positive progress continues.

The EU is Sri Lanka’s biggest export market, accounting for nearly one-third of Sri Lanka’s global exports. In 2016, total bilateral trade amounted to almost €4 billion. EU imports from Sri Lanka amounted to €2.6 billion and consisted mainly of textiles as well as rubber products and machinery.

There are now 9 GSP+ beneficiaries namely Armenia, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

List of Conventions To Qualify For ‘GSP Plus’

1.     International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

2.     International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights

3.     International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

4.     Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

5.     Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

6.     Convention on the Rights of the Child

7.     Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

8.     Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (N° 138)

9.     Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (N° 182)

10. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (N° 105)

11. Forced Compulsory Labour Convention (N° 29)

12. Equal Remuneration of Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value                   Convention (N° 100)

13. Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation Convention (N° 111)

14. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (N° 87)

15. Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively. Convention (N° 98)

16. International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid

17. Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer

18. Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal

19. Stockholm Convention on persistent Organic Pollutants

20. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

21. Convention on Biological Diversity

22. Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

23. Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

24. UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961)

25. UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971)

26. UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988)

27. Mexico UN Convention Against Corruption




Anti-Terror Bill Revives Concerns Of Abuse – HRW

The latest counter terrorism bill falls far short of the government’s pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council to end abusive detention without charge, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. The Cabinet approved the third draft of the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) on May 3, 2017, but no parliamentary vote has been set.

While the bill improves upon the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), it would still permit many of the abuses occurring under current law, and raises a number of new concerns, Human Rights Watch said. To meet its promises to the Human Rights Council, the government should reject any counterterrorism legislation that is not in accordance with international best practices.

“Sri Lanka’s counterterrorism bill buries its abusive intent under detailed procedures, but it still won’t protect people from wrongful detention,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “While some provisions could prevent abuses, the fundamental danger of prolonged detention without charge remains. This isn’t what UN member countries sought when they agreed that Sri Lanka would reform its security laws.”

Recent interviews by Human Rights Watch found that torture remains endemic throughout Sri Lanka, including through the use of the PTA. Those arrested under the PTA, including since the war ended in 2009, gave accounts of torture and mistreatment, forced confessions, and denial of basic rights such as access to lawyers or family members.

As part of its undertakings for security sector reform at the Human Rights Council in October 2015, the Sri Lankan government pledged to repeal and replace the PTA. Several provisions under the proposed counterterrorism law are improvements, such as greater detainee access to counsel, entry of magistrates and Human Rights Commission officers to detention facilities, and reporting requirements that could help prevent enforced disappearances.

However, a number of provisions are likely to facilitate human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. Of particular concern are the bill’s broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts, which include a wide array of illegal conduct. The suspect needs to have acted with a terrorist purpose, but this broadly includes ‘intimidat[ing] a population’ and threatening ‘the unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty, national security or defence of Sri Lanka’ – which could be found to include peaceful political activity or protest. While the draft law enumerates procedural safeguards, it is weak on demonstrating the manner in which they can be effectively implemented.

As with the PTA, under the proposed law, police and military officers may make arrests without a warrant. Suspects may be detained without charge for 12 months, a reduction from the 18 months permitted under the PTA. Bail is only to be granted for exceptional reasons.

The bill also prohibits a range of conduct with ‘Proscribed Terrorist Organizations’ that violate the right to freedom of association. If enacted, the law would prohibit ordinary dealings with many ethnic Tamil organizations, including those based abroad, that were declared illegal during the armed conflict and remain so, even if during or since the war they never engaged in any terrorist activity.

“The latest counter terrorism bill brings Sri Lanka no closer to having a law that will genuinely respect the rights of suspects,” Adams said. “UN member countries and the EU need to be pressing Colombo to fully abide by its pledges to the Human Rights Council.”

2 Comments for “EU Keeps Close Watch On CTA Post GSP”

  1. raj

    EU must include a another condition. That is making dowry practices punishable crime with a new law. Like that, depriving children from having education should be another punishable crimes. Like other south east Asian countries, Sri Lanka is one of the countries that face dowry and child labour problem. Both should be eliminated. It is time for both Tamils leaders and Singhalese leaders speak against both crimes.

  2. raj

    According to the following news, Sri Lankan forces are immunized when they commit sexual assault. Is it right or wrong? Sri Lankans should decide about it.

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