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EU reaffirms support as Sri Lanka moves towards ‘truth and reconciliation commission’

Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry has touted a ‘productive virtual dialogue’ with the European Union, reporting that the EU reaffirmed its commitment to the island and that they discussed the GSP+ arrangement, which sees favourable trading concessions to Sri Lanka.

The virtual meeting was held last Thursday and was the first dialogue to take place between the two Parliament since the last in-person meeting in November 2017 in Colombo.

During the session, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Ali Sabry, claimed the island had made progress on human rights and reconciliation by pointing to the 21st amendment to the island’s constitution; anti-corruption measures; discussions on a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”; proposals to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); and the release of recent detainees held under the PTA.

‘Truth and reconciliation’ without accountability?

Discussions on a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (TRC) following a meeting between Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa where they reportedly discussed establishing a TRC in Sri Lanka.

Such a proposal is not new, as human rights professor Kate Cronin-Furman highlights in her book “Human Rights and Hypocrisy, in 2013 and 2014 South African officials met several times with members of the Sri Lankan government to discuss implementing a TRC. This has been peddled “as an alternative to prosecutions, despite consistent messaging from international courts and human rights NGOs that amnesties are unlawful”.

Whilst in office, President Wickremesinghe has leaned on the military to support crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

During the discussions, Sri Lanka claimed to have made progress in taking steps to repeal the draconian PTA and having released those detained under the legislation. The claim comes as the European Union is set to release a report on Sri Lanka’s human rights progress under the GSP+ agreement and follows scathing condemnation over the continued use of the PTA.

The legislation has been used disproportionately used against Tamils and Muslims and has been linked to enforced disappearances, torture, and sexual violence.

Whilst Sri Lanka has claimed progress in terms of releasing detainees, there remains a large volume of Tamil political prisoners who have been detained for years. The government is yet to release a list of those detained under the PTA.

Enhanced cooperation

During the meeting, the EU and Sri Lanka also discussed wider issues such as cooperation on climate change; “the disproportionate impact of the global pandemic and rising energy, fertilizer and food prices on developing country economies”.

Read the Sri Lankan foreign ministry's statement here.

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