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'Brussels has a historic opportunity' - Human Rights Watch urges international action on Sri Lanka

Responding to a joint letter by seven UN Special Rapporteurs urging Sri Lanka to suspend their draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, until amended to meet international obligations, Human Rights Watch has urged the European Union "to not allow itself to be hoodwinked by a sham PTA reform".

Commenting on Sri Lanka's pledge to reform they stress that "President Gotabaya Rajapaksa carries little credibility". This is further evidenced by amendments to the bill which "permits long-term detention without trial, more repressive, not less". The committee to amend the PTA is also overseen by Sri Lankan Defense Secretary and accused war criminal Kamal Gunaratne, who oversaw the notorious 53 Division of Sri Lanka's army during the final stages of the war. His unit is further accused of engaging in sexual violence, summary executions, and the disappearance of those who surrendered to the military.

Instead of buying into the government's promises, HRW urges the EU to press Sri Lanka to meet its international obligations and to follow the lead of partners such as the United States which "this month sanctioned two more Sri Lankans linked to grave rights violations".

The statement highlights the preferential trading agreement granted to Sri Lanka through the GSP+ which enables tariff-free market access. In 2017 Sri Lanka's access to the scheme was restored as it pledged to repeal or reform the PTA but has since reneged on this statement. In June the European Parliament slammed the Sri Lankan government for its failure to abide by its international commitments and encouraged the suspension of this trading agreement.

HRW statement stresses that "respect for human rights in Sri Lanka has been declining alarmingly under President Rajapaksa" but that "Brussels has a historic opportunity to help reverse this trend and press the government to meet its human rights obligations". 

"The outcome will ultimately depend on the EU’s level of ambition and assertiveness" they note. 

Read more here.


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