Gareth Thomas MP

From Harrow, For Harrow.

Sri Lanka’s application to join GSP+

An open letter from Gareth Thomas MP, Member of Parliament for Harrow West to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson:

We are writing to urge you to encourage the European Parliament to object to Sri Lanka’s application to re-join the GSP+.

As you will know, the Sri Lankan authorities reapplied for preferential trade status with the EU under the GSP+ program in July 2016. The European Commission has reviewed Sri Lanka’s application and established earlier this year that Sri Lanka did meet the conditions for GSP+ status. However, given the ongoing reports of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government and the lack of significant progress in investigating allegations of war crimes from the recent conflict, we urge you to use your influence within the European Parliament and Council to object to this application until further progress has been made.

You will be aware that GSP+ exists in order to provide developing countries with an incentive to take on the responsibilities associated with ratifying and effectively implementing 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection, and good governance. Sri Lanka was a beneficiary of GSP+ prior to 2010, when its beneficiary status was revoked due to the government’s failure to address reported human rights violations in the country.

As noted in the European Commission’s January 2017 report, the new government installed in 2015 has brought about some positive changes to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, in particular by making significant effort to address serious failures noted by the Commission in 2010-2011 to effectively implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the report also notes that as recently as December 2016 the Committee Against Torture (CAT) observed “salient shortcomings on the continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of suspects in police custody” as well as “prevailing impunity in most cases of torture” and continuing issues including but not limited to forced disappearances, detainees rights, and sexual abuses.

The Prevention of Terror Act (PTA) employed by the Sri Lankan government is completely inconsistent with the provisions of the Convention. It allows the police broad powers of search, seizure, arrest, and detention of any individual for up to 18 months without warrant or oversight. The granting of GSP+ status is intended to indicate the presence of substantial and ongoing progress rather than fully satisfactory compliance with respect to the 27 conventions and the strides Sri Lanka has made in addressing human rights violations in many areas are indeed welcome.

However, we do not believe that the progress made by President Sirisena’s Government can yet be deemed sufficient to gain from the significant benefits that GSP+ status would derive. The Sri Lankan Government acknowledged last May that they had received 65,000 complaints of enforced disappearances since 1995, whilst there were widespread claims of human rights abuses at the end of the brutal conflict in 2009.

Whilst the Sri Lankan Government’s willingness to co-sponsor a resolution to the UN Human Rights Council in October 2015 was encouraging, the motion fell short of previous international calls for a full independent inquiry into allegations of war crimes. Since then, there has been far too little progress in initiating this process, with worrying comments from Sri Lankan officials suggesting that the judicial process would not have any international involvement at all.

Access to GSP+ should only be granted when significant progress has been made, and we do not think that the Sri Lankan authorities have reached that point yet, despite some encouraging steps in the right direction. As such, we urge you to stand up for victims of torture, and for the sanctity of human rights everywhere, by strongly opposing the European’s Commission’s decision to award Sri Lanka GSP+ status at this stage.


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