In advance of a visit by a delegation from the European Union (EU) to review the GSP+ facility, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary, Jayanath Colombage, claimed that country had “nothing to hide”.
“Our policy is come and see. We have nothing to hide. Don’t be judgmental and take decisions by sitting at a desk in Europe,” Colombage told reporters at a virtual press conference.
The delegation is set to arrive on 27 September and follows the passage of a damning EU resolution which raised alarms of the rapid deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka.
Colombage claimed that the government has been in correspondence with the EU and were allegedly “well received”. Addressing one of the largest concerns held by the EU, the continued use of Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the foreign secretary claimed that the government was committed to either amending or replacing the amendment and that an expert committee was working on this. He maintained that amendments would be made but that national security would not be compromised in any manner.
On the PTA, the EU resolution described the legislation as “abusive and draconian”, noting further that proposed amendments to expand it under the guise of “deradicalisation” should be suspended”. The resolution further slammed the targetting of Tamils and Muslims by Sri Lanka’s security forces and called for the release of a number of prominent figures who remain in detention without charge. These include the well-known Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and Muhammadhu Jazeem Muhammadhu Ahnaf, a 26-year-old Muslim and teacher from Northern Sri Lanka who was arrested by the Counter-Terrorism Investigation Division (CTID) of the police last year for allegedly promoting “extremist ideas” in a book of poetry he published in 2017.
Commenting on the PTA, Sri Lanka’s former human rights high commissioner, Ambika Satkunanathan, noted:
“historically, Tamils, dissenters, those critical of the government of the time, and anyone calling for accountability for human rights violations have been labelled LTTE or portrayed as threats to national security” and that "such labelling is done to create an environment the enables the state to justify any punitive action taken against them."
The resolution was more extensive than criticism of the PTA, detailing the crackdown on civil society; the need to investigate and prosecute war crime abuses; and the need to hold to account government and military figures responsible for stoking ethnic and religious hatred.
Given the these ongoing abuses the resolution calls for the EU council to suspend its favourable trading agreements with Sri Lanka. The EU is Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market and is worth an estimated 2.3 billion euros.
Colombage’s statements on the EU’s follow his remarks on the UN Human Rights Council session in which rejected the need for an “external mechanism”.
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