The EU may be about to turn a blind eye to torture in Sri Lanka. Here’s how you can stop them.
In just under a month’s time, the EU Commission will take a decision on whether to begin the process of restoring ‘GSP+’ preferential trade status to Sri Lanka, the scheme of concessions granted to non-EU states that uphold human rights and the rule of the law. According to sources close to the Commission, there are strong signs that it is preparing to give the go-ahead for the move, which could come as early as 8th January 2017. In light of serious ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka – particularly torture (as underscored by last week’s damning report of the UN Committee Against Torture last week) – this must be stopped.
Many readers will recall that Sri Lanka was stripped of its ‘GSP+’ status in August 2010 in response to repeated and systematic human rights abuses under then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. That development followed the Government of Sri Lanka’s failure to substantively respond to a letter sent from the EU Commission in June of that year, in which it laid out 15 conditions that would need to be met in order for GSP+ to be retained. Though wide-ranging in scope, a significant portion of these comprised specific steps designed to eradicate torture, in fulfilment of Sri Lanka’s obligations under both the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – international treaties that EU rules require countries receiving GSP+ status to implement.
Yet six years later, and despite the change in government, torture has remained disturbingly persistent. Following a comprehensive review, the pre-eminent UN body for addressing torture, last week described torture as “common practice” in Sri Lanka, the result of long-standing impunity for perpetrators combined with a failure to undertake basic institutional reforms to deter its use (for example, through the repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act).
Acknowledging the credibility of reports by human rights organisations concerning ongoing abductions and torture under the new government, as well as the continued existence of secret detention sites used to facilitate them, the Committee made a series of 50 recommendations along with a request for the Government of Sri Lanka to provide a further implementation report by 7th December 2017.
The Sri Lanka Campaign is demanding that the EU Commission postpone any decision to restore GSP+ to Sri Lanka until the UN Committee Against Torture has evaluated this report. To determine the issue any sooner would not merely fly in the face of the EU’s own advice on the matter; it would also seriously undermine the important work of the Committee and represent a grave affront to the survivors of torture.
Moreover, the EU Commission must remain mindful of the role that GSP+ will surely play in the much broader effort, being advanced by EU states through the work of the Human Rights Council, to ensure that Sri Lanka effectively deals with the legacy of the war through a credible justice and reconciliation process. GSP+ remains one of the few remaining ‘carrots’ with which to help secure the good-will of a government that has often appeared deeply unwilling to take the steps necessary to build a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. It is therefore one that must not be squandered so readily.
P.S. want to increase the impact of your action? Email five friends asking them sign the petition today, or share the link to this piece along with the image below on social media using the hashtag #No2GSP+. You can get the EU Commission to take notice by tagging them here on Twitter and here on Facebook.