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SL assures EU to change terror law to win GSP export facility

Amidst the fear of losing the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade preferential access to European markets, Sri Lanka informed the European Union (EU) that it was ready to amend the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the highly criticised law which was used to arrest a large number of Tamil political prisoners and detained them extensively during and after the ethnic war against Tamil separatists in the northern part of the island nation.

Updated Jul 02, 2021 02:51 AM

SL assures EU to change terror law to win GSP export facility

"The EU was apprised of the process that has been set in motion to release detainees who have been in judicial custody for a prolonged period, under the PTA," the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on Thursday night.

The Ministry also updated the EU on June 25 a pardon granted by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 16 former LTTE cadres convicted and serving sentences under the PTA.

"Action are underway to revisit provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, No 48 of 1979, with the study of existing legislation, past practice, and international best practices," Sri Lanka informed the EU.

The Foreign Ministry also stated that "plans are underway to convene the Working Group on Governance, Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law on mutually agreed dates in the fourth quarter of this year".

The Sri Lankan government also assured the EU of its "substantial progress in areas of reconciliation and development".

As part of the reconciliation mechanisms, the government has informed the EU of the release of 79 million LKR to the Office of Reparations in June to settle 1,230 processed claims for reparation and the release of 80 million LKR to settle a further 1,451 processed claims, out of a total 3,389 processed claims.

"The government of Sri Lanka maintains a regular, cordial and multifaceted dialogue with the EU. This includes the constructive cooperation existing between Sri Lanka and the European Commission on the review of the country's EU GSP+ compliance with the 27 core International Conventions," the Foreign Ministry stated.

Currently the Third Cycle of Review of Sri Lanka in the GSP+ Monitoring Process for 2020-2021 is ongoing and a GSP+ Monitoring Mission is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in September/October this year.

On June 10, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the EU to consider withdrawing preferential access to its markets unless the Sri Lankan government complies with its commitments to replace the PTA.

Quoting the recent UN report in which it referred to "alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations", the 705-member EU Parliament adopted the resolution with 628 votes in favour, 15 against and 40 abstaining.

The EU Parliament also "deplores the continuing discrimination against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities and communities in Sri Lanka, including Muslims, Hindus, Tamils and Christians".

In 2017, then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, highlighted the history of Sri Lankan authorities of prosecuting minorities on charges of terrorism, noting that "the PTA had been used to commit some of the worst human rights violations, including widespread torture and arbitrary detention, in the run-up to and during the conflict, particularly to target minorities and suppress dissent".

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the European Commission to increase its scrutiny on Sri Lanka and to set out a timeline and concrete benchmarks for replacing the PTA and fulfilling other human rights obligations" or otherwise suspend Sri Lanka's access to preferential trading terms known as GSP+.

While welcoming the pardoning of 16 Tamil prisoners, the HRW on June 29 noted that it was an "empty gesture" that fails to urgently address the need to repeal the draconian PTA.

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