News

Government holds line on inernational stage, battles dissent at home 

  • SJB, UNP trade blows as RW prepares to enter Parliament 

  • Need for strong Opposition grows amidst SJB’s loyalty issues 

  • Police crackdown on speech determined to be ‘fake news’ 

  • Several SC rulings note free speech importance to democracy 

  • EU resolution puts Government on notice, as key areas reviewed 

 

Sri Lanka it seems has once again attracted the attention of the international community following the successful completion of the virtually held Sri Lanka Investment Forum last week. Neighbouring India, addressing the forum, expressed its readiness to partner with Sri Lanka for economic development in the 21st Century. 

This was one of the first public forums attended by India after the implementation of the Port City Economic Commission Bill that caused much controversy, especially over its possible impact on the country’s sovereignty. Supreme Court intervention resulted in key amendments being introduced to the piece of legislation before passage in Parliament. Since then, India has vowed to keep a close watch on Sri Lanka and the Chinese influence on the island. 

However, last week saw Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay call on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for the first time since the whole Port City Economic Bill saga. 

The meeting took place last Monday (7) at Temple Trees. 

The Prime Minister and the High Commissioner had discussed wide-ranging issues related to bilateral relations with emphasis being laid on Indian-funded projects in Sri Lanka. 

Baglay, it is learnt, had discussed the many pending Indian-funded projects in the island and the need to expedite them. Among the projects discussed were two power projects in Kerawalapitiya and Sampur as well as the $ 100 million Indian line of credit (LOC) for Sri Lanka’s solar power sector. 

The Government of Sri Lanka is yet to respond to India’s offer to fund a hybrid renewable energy generation project on several islands off the Jaffna Peninsula. The proposed project, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), was to be assigned to a Chinese company. However, geopolitical issues resulted in India expressing concern over the project and offering the funds required for the project to be re-awarded to another company. 

It is learnt that the meeting between Rajapaksa and Baglay had concluded on a positive note. 

Apart from the investment promotion campaign, Sri Lanka was also in the spotlight last week when the European Union (EU) Parliament adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka on the present situation and recent arrests being carried out under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).  

The resolution follows a recent resolution presented before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) on Sri Lanka. 

The Government of Sri Lanka has already commenced lobbying for the withdrawal of the resolution at the US FAC. 

 

Loyalty issues in Opposition 

While Sri Lanka is in the midst of facing concerns raised by several foreign bodies, the Opposition in Sri Lanka seems to be somewhat in disarray. 

The recent announcement of one-time main Opposition United National Party (UNP) deciding to send its defeated Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to fill its single Parliament seat secured through the National List, seems to have upset the hornet’s nest in the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). 

Wickremesinghe’s return to the House has kicked the proverbial backs of the SJB and its Leader cum Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. 

Despite initial beliefs that Wickremesinghe’s return to Parliament through the National List after being defeated at last year’s general election would attract ridicule and displeasure from the public, it has not been so. This is a clear statement on the squandered political capital by the likes of Premadasa due to shortcomings in handling the affairs of the SJB. 

The past few weeks have witnessed the public questioning the role of the Opposition or the lack of it. The growing dissent against the Government is also being directed at the Opposition for its failures. The spotlight for these shortcomings fell squarely on Premadasa. 

Following reports that Wickremesinghe, once in Parliament, would make a push for the post of Opposition Leader with the support of a group of disgruntled SJB MPs, the Opposition Leader, it is learnt, had wanted a show of the support enjoyed by him.  

It is in this backdrop that the SJB parliamentary group on Monday (7) passed a resolution expressing its members’ unconditional support to Party Leader and Opposition Leader Premadasa. 

A statement issued by the SJB afterwards had stated that the decision was reached in order to dismiss false information being spread to claim there were internal issues in the SJB and among parties affiliated with it. 

The communication had stated that media propaganda claiming conflicts within the party are strongly condemned and the party had allegedly stated that the incumbent Government was behind the spread of such conspiracies. 

“The Government, which is gradually being rejected by the people, and the deal politics attempting to protect the Government, are behind this conspiracy,” the SJB had stated. 

The resolution was reportedly presented by MPs Lakshman Kiriella, Rauff Hakeem, Patali Champika Ranawaka, and Mano Ganesan. 

The resolution was seconded by MPs Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, and Ashok Abeysinghe. 

The resolution was unanimously adopted by the SJB. 

It is learnt that when Kiriella had taken up the resolution expressing support to Premadasa, a majority of the members at the meeting have said there was no such need for such a resolution, as it would indicate some form of conflict within the party. 

However, Kiriella had insisted that the resolution be moved. At this point, several MPs have said if it needed to be proposed and seconded, it should include all coalition members of the SJB as well. 

Accordingly, the names of Hakeem, Ranawaka, and Ganesan were included as proponents of the resolution. 

When several SJB MPs had inquired from Kiriella later on about the sudden need to adopt such a resolution, Kiriella had said he had discussed with Premadasa and the latter had insisted on the move. 

SJB MP Harin Fernando, who has been recuperating after a heart surgery recently, making his first public statement last week, noted that he could not comprehend the reason for passing such a resolution. “I think it is a foolish act. I do not know the reason and it should be asked from the person who moved it,” Fernando said. 

He further noted that Premadasa is his leader while Wickremesinghe, his former leader, is a man he respects very much. 

Fernando added that both the SJB and UNP should look at working together. “The UNP is foolish if it thinks it could undermine the SJB and the SJB too is foolish if it thinks it can do without the UNP,” he said. 

Interestingly, Premadasa, it is learnt, had expressed displeasure at the comments made by Fernando. However, Fernando, it is learnt, had responded saying he had not made any critical responses against Premadasa, as he had openly acknowledged Premadasa as his leader. 

Meanwhile, MP Dr. Senaratne last week observed that Wickremesinghe should not allow himself to be misled by those who have joined the UNP recently. 

He had said at a news briefing that the UNP Leader should not try to confront the SJB once he returns to Parliament. 

“One MP cannot confront around 50 MPs and I hope Wickremesinghe will understand this reality as a mature politician,” Dr. Senaratne was quoted saying in the media. 

The UNP has, meanwhile, maintained that it had no intention of dividing the Opposition. 

The jittery Opposition Leader has now irked a coalition partner, Ranawaka, following a report in a print media outlet supportive of Premadasa claiming that Ranawaka has fallen on his knees accepting defeat as Premadasa has won the confidence of the SJB as its Leader and Opposition Leader. 

Ranawaka loyalists were last week seen taking on Premadasa and his political role.  

However, the governing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) seems to have found the best issue to upset the Opposition Leader. Many governing party MPs as well as loyalists have openly stated that the SJB would be split in the coming weeks once Wickremesinghe returns to Parliament and makes a play for the Opposition Leader post. 

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage had stated in Parliament that the SJB was facing internal squabbles, as Wickremesinghe’s entry to the House has caused divisions within the main Opposition party in Parliament. 

According to Aluthgamage, some SJB MPs have already met with Wickremesinghe and expressed their support to him. 

The Minister had further claimed that Premadasa would soon lose his post of Opposition Leader of Parliament, as Wickremesinghe would acquire it.  

The statements by governing party members have raised suspicions among SJB members as well as the public on whether Wickremesinghe would in fact get the support of the governing party to stake a claim for the post of Opposition Leader.

These suspicions have been further fuelled by the close relationship enjoyed through the years between Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas. There have been many instances when the Rajapaksas have assisted Wickremesinghe to retain his party membership during the height of revolts for a leadership change in the UNP. 

 

RW swearing in on 22nd 

Wickremesinghe’s swearing in as a member of parliament is to take place during the next sessions commencing on 22 June. He is to take oaths on the 22nd, it is learnt. 

Parliament sessions last week were limited to one day – Tuesday. 

It is also learnt that Wickremesinghe’s name as the UNP’s nominee to fill the National List in the House had not been sent to the Election Commission (EC) last week. The UNP’s official communication to the EC is to take place on Tuesday (15). 

Interestingly, the UNP Leader’s seat in the House is to be assigned next to that of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. An Opposition MP noted that Wickremesinghe’s seat has been assigned next to the National People’s Power (NPP) much to the chagrin of the JVPers. 

Wickremesinghe being seated next to Dissanayake would undoubtedly result in the latter becoming a target of the governing party members’ criticism over sinister plans being at play as well as the slogan “Rathu Ali Patiya” (red baby elephant) being thrown frequently at him.  

 

Monks clash again 

Amidst all the chaos in the Opposition, the monks turned politicians in the Our People’s Power Party (OPPP) are once again embroiled in a tussle. 

The tussle, once again, is over its parliamentary slot secured through the National List, following the last parliamentary election. 

While Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera entered Parliament through the National List slot, it was supposed to be a temporary appointment, as it was to be a shared slot with Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera. 

The party last week announced that Ven. Gnanasara Thera will be appointed as its National List MP after MP Ven. Rathana Thera resigns from the seat. 

According to the OPPP, Ven. Rathana Thera had agreed to resign from the parliamentary seat after three months in order to hand it over to Ven. Gnanasara Thera.  

During last year’s controversy over the National List slot, Ven. Wedinigama Wimalatissa Thera, who claimed to be the General Secretary of the party, had nominated himself to the seat. 

However, Ven. Rathana Thera had reportedly promised to give Ven. Gnanasara Thera the seat three months after his appointment.  

However Ven. Gnanasara Thera had observed that it was not an issue even if Ven. Rathana Thera occupied the seat for six months. 

Nevertheless, Ven. Rathana Thera, it is learnt, is currently remaining silent without agreeing to resign from the seat, resulting in a growing battle within the OPPP monks.  

 

New detention centre 

 

Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week issued a gazette notice naming the Counter Terrorism Investigation Unit as a place of detention.  

The gazette had been issued on 4 June as a notification under Section 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).  

“I, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President do hereby notify that the premises specified in the schedule hereto, shall be a place of detention for the purposes under Section 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979,” the gazette notice has stated.  

The schedule lists the Counter Terrorism Investigation Unit in Kirulapone, Colombo as a place of detention and Section 9 refers to the detention of suspects arrested under the PTA.  

Accordingly, the facility will be used to detain suspects arrested under the PTA. 

A few days later, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was assigned with investigating those who are allegedly misleading the public by spreading false propaganda on social media. 

Police Media Spokesman Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Ajith Rohana was quoted as saying that a special police team has been appointed to investigate such false reports. 

He had further noted that the public was facing various inconveniences due to such false propaganda on social media platforms. 

DIG Rohana had added it is an offence punishable under Section 98 of the Police Ordinance, if anyone disturbs the public by publishing fake news. 

 

Misinformation/disinformation saga 

Accordingly, the Police last week requested the public to refrain from sharing fake news on social media, adding that those who do so can be arrested without a warrant. 

The Police had further noted that those arrested can be charged under Sections 120, 286, 286 A, 291 A, 291 B, 345, 365 D, 402, 403, and 486 of the Penal Code; Section 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007; Section 6 of the Computer Crime Act; Sections 2 and 3 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979; and provisions of the Obscene Publications Ordinance No. 4 of 1927. 

Meanwhile, a suspect was arrested last Monday and charged under Section 120 of the Penal Code (exciting or attempting to incite disaffection towards the State) and the provisions of the Computer Crime Act No. 24 of 2007 for allegedly posting a number of social media posts containing “fake news”. He was reportedly produced before the Kandy Chief Magistrate’s Court last Tuesday and was released on a surety bail of Rs. 200,000. 

The suspect had allegedly shared a number of satirical posts on his social media with regard to various politicians. In addition, the suspect has also shared a post which had allegedly accused two state ministers of paying Rs. 6,000 to a Muslim man to break the Buddha statues in Mawanella in the Kandy District to incite racial tensions. 

Meanwhile, Information Technology Society of Sri Lanka (ITSSL) Head Rajeev Yasiru Kuruwitage Mathew was also arrested last Monday for allegedly publishing false information about a cyber-attack and was remanded until Wednesday (9) and was later granted bail. 

Serious concerns have arisen with the Government’s decision to take action against those who publish “fake news” on social media channels, SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne stated on social media last Tuesday.

According to him, the Government was taking draconian measures under the guise of handling the Covid-19 pandemic, and this is one of them. 

“Adding to the growing list of draconian measures taken under the guise of Covid-19 management, the Government is now criminalising fake news. Who decides what constitutes fake news?” he has asked via his Twitter account on Tuesday. 

He has also stated that this was another attempt to silence those opposing the Government. 

“While fake news is a serious concern, this is merely an attempt to silence dissent. Will government representatives spreading fake information on Covid-19 be held accountable too?” he had further questioned. 

The SJB had further announced that its youth wing has appointed a team of lawyers led by its Legal Secretary Madhava Jayawardena to provide legal assistance to those who hold views opposed to the Government if and when they are arrested under the guise of enforcing the law against those who publish false news. 

The UNP also joined the chorus of opposing the Government’s latest move. UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara also observed that the party was prepared to provide whatever assistance required by individuals being persecuted for making dissenting comments. 

He observed that if the Government was to take action against fake news, then action would first have to be taken against government MPs. 

“Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that cow slaughter will be banned in a month, but that did not happen. The President said that fertiliser will be provided free of charge, but there is no fertiliser to even purchase for money. Minister Johnston Fernando said that no resources in our country will be given to other countries, but a part of Port City has been given to China. These are the fake news that are circulating in the country,” Range Bandara had added. 

Attorney-at-Law Suren Fernando rightfully points out that when government officials continue to share inconsistent information with the public regarding a situation, this creates confusion and in turn, paves the way for the spread of fake news. 

Fernando had explained that the term “fake news” needs to be defined very clearly. 

“The Constitution of this country, which is the highest law of the land, recognises freedom of speech. Any exception to this needs to take place through due processes and must be defined very clearly,” he has added. 

 

Legal point of view

 

It is in this background that Attorney-at-Law Fernando had made some pertinent observations earlier last week.  

“Criminalising ‘fake news’? What is ‘fake news’? Who will decide fake/fact? Will this law apply to govt affiliates/politicians? The #ConstitutionLK permits #FreedomOfExpression subject to certain limitations (e.g., Hate Speech) (sic),” he tweeted. 

“The Govt is supposed to protect and advance fundamental rights, not to stifle dissent under the guise of regulating ‘fake news’ (sic),” he added.  

Fernando has cited the Supreme Court ruling in the Amaratunga vs. Sirimal (Jana Ghosha case) (1993) 1 SLR 264 as a case in point. 

The Jana Gosha case description states: “Several political parties including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party  (SLFP) decided to show their disapproval of the policies and actions of the Government on a range of issues. It was decided to harmonise their protests, nationwide by means of a 15-minute noisy cacophony of protests (Jana Ghosha): the ringing of bells, tooting of motor vehicle horns, beating of drums, banging of saucepans so that there might resound throughout the nation, a deafening din of disapproval. The petitioner, a member of the SLFP and a member of the Pradeshiya Sabha of Horana was one such participant at Ingiriya. The petitioner voiced his protest by beating a drum. When he did not heed the Police order to stop beating the drum, he was assaulted and his drum broken with a rice pounder. The crowd of protesters shouted slogans against the Government and formed a cordon across the road. Tear gas and a baton charge were used to disperse the crowd. 

“Held: 1. The Police did not have reason to apprehend a breach of the peace. The action by the Police was simply because anti-Government slogans were being shouted. 

“2. The petitioner’s fundamental right of speech and expression was violated.” 

The Supreme Court had stated on 9 February 1993 in the said case: “The right to support or to criticise government and political parties, policies, and programmes is fundamental to the democratic way of life, and the freedom of speech and expression is one which cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all civil and political institutions.” 

It further stated: “Criticism of the Government, and of political parties and policies, is per se, a permissible exercise of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 14 (1)(a).

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.” 

According to Fernando, the Supreme Court observation in Kurukulasuriya vs. SLRC (SCFR 556/2008) is another case that points to the civil and political freedoms ensured through the freedom of expression. 

“The Constitution of Sri Lanka only curtails free speech to maintain racial and religious harmony, parliamentary privilege, to avoid contempt of court and defamation or to avoid incitement to an offence. The nature of the expression being political is certainly not a criterion recognised in the Constitution to limit freedom of expression,” the Supreme Court ruling observed in the case.  

“The judgments of the Supreme Court constitute a body of jurisprudence that has evolved over the years, and the Supreme Court has recognised that the right to comment on public issues and criticise public officials and public institutions is essential for the exercise of civil and political freedoms so valued by democratic society (See Joseph Perera vs. the Attorney General (AG) (1992) 1 Sri LR 199; Amaratunga vs. Sirimal and Others (1993) 1 Sri LR 264; Wijeratne vs. Vijitha Perera, Sub-Inspector of Police, Polonnaruwa, and Others (2002) 3 SLR 319; Deshapriya and Another vs. Municipal Council Nuwara Eliya and Others (1995) 1 Sri LR 362; Dissanayake vs. University of Sri Jayawardenapura (1986) 2 SLR 254; Sunila Abeysekara vs. Ariya Rubasinghe, Competent Authority and Others (2000) 1 SLR 314). This view was succinctly expressed in Deshapriya and Another vs. Municipal Council Nuwara Eliya and Others (supra). 

“‘The right to support or to criticise governments and political parties, policies, and programmes is fundamental to the democratic way of life;…and democracy requires not merely that dissent be tolerated, but that it be encouraged (De Jonge vs. Oregon, Amaratunga vs. Sirimal, Wijeratne vs. Perera and Pieris vs. AG’s) (at page 370) and thus, in Amaratunga vs. Sirimal (supra); ‘criticism of the Government, and of political parties and policies, is per se, a permissible exercise of the freedom of speech and expression under Article14 (1)(a).’ (at page 271)” 

Referring to the issue of sub judice, the Supreme Court has observed: “Sub judice is a legal safeguard and media institutions should not be allowed to use a safeguard as a cloak to stifle the citizen’s right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Sub judice is not meant for justifying autocratic and stifling conduct relating to freedom of expression. These safeguards are for the purpose of creating an equal marketplace of ideas with minimal risk of polarisation…” 

According to Counsel Fernando: “If govt communications are perceived as unreliable, that would provide fertile ground for fake news. A proper, efficient/timely govt comms strategy, sharing (truthful) info with the sovereign people would be the best preventive against fake news. Maybe follow Gandhi’s advice: An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching. (sic)” 

 

EU adopts resolution 

Meanwhile, the EU Parliament last Thursday (10) adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka – European Parliament Resolution of 10 June 2021 on the situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2021/2748[RSP]). 

The Parliament had reportedly adopted three resolutions on the human rights situation at the Spanish/Moroccan border, in Russia, and in Sri Lanka. 

The resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted with 628 votes in favour, 15 against, and 40 abstentions. 

The resolution has noted that the EU Parliament expresses its deep concern about Sri Lanka’s alarming slide towards a recurrence of grave human rights violations, as described by the most recent United Nations (UN) report on the country. 

The concerns expressed by the EU Parliament are as follows: 

  1.   Expresses deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations as described by the most recent UN report on the country, which lists among the early warning signs the accelerating militarisation of civilian governmental functions, the reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, exclusionary rhetoric, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws; 
  2.   Reiterates its strong opposition to the continued application of the current PTA; calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to fulfil their pledge to review and repeal the Act and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation which adheres to international best practices; further calls for the immediate suspension of the deradicalisation regulations; 
  3.   Points out that Regulations No. 1 of 2021 do not provide for procedural guarantees for any person deprived of their liberty as laid down in Article 9 of the ICCPR, and that they violate Sri Lanka’s own constitutional guarantees under Article 13 of the Sri Lankan Constitution; recalls that deradicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration centres, which are regulated under similar legislation, have in the past been rife with serious human rights violations such as torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence; 
  4.   Expresses grave concern about the arbitrary arrests and detention under the PTA without due process and access to justice, including for civil society activists, lawyers, writers, and poets such as Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem; notes with concern the detention of Shani Abeysekara, the former Director of the CID; urges the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately give those detained a fair trial on valid charges and, if there are no charges, to release them unconditionally; 
  5.   Deplores the continuing discrimination against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities and communities in Sri Lanka, including Muslims, Hindus, Tamils, and Christians; calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to unequivocally condemn hate speech, incitement to violence, and discrimination against religious and ethnic groups in the country, and to hold to account those who advance such divisions, including within the Government and military; 
  6.   Notes the adoption of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and expresses serious concern about the resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency; 
  7.   Notes with concern the Government of Sri Lanka’s recent proposal to enact a new law on disinformation despite concerns raised by civil society organisations about the threats such a law could pose to the freedom of expression; urges online platforms to take proactive steps to moderate the circulation of hate speech and disinformation online in the Sinhalese and Tamil languages; 
  8.   Is concerned that provisions in Sri Lanka’s Penal Code, notably sections 365, 365A, and 399, have been interpreted in such a way as to criminalise individuals with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.  

 

The actions proposed by the resolution are as follows: 

  1.   Calls on the Commission to urgently evaluate its funding for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and INTERPOL project “Support to Sri Lanka on Counter-Terrorism” while counterterrorism in Sri Lanka is in certain cases being used as a pretext on which to persecute members of ethnic and religious groups and civil society, including human rights defenders; calls on the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka and the member states’ representations to increase their support to civil society, especially human rights defenders, environmental defenders, and journalists; 
  2.   Underlines the crucial importance of ensuring that the national reconciliation process is given the necessary attention and results in concrete actions, including accountability for enforced disappearances and past crimes; regrets Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the commitments it made to the UN Human Rights Council in the context of its sponsorship of resolution of 14 October 2015 entitled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka”, and encourages it to re-engage with the council, which is instrumental in restoring relations with the international community and creating a process of national reconciliation between the diverse Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian communities; 
  3.   Calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to prevent any hindrance of the investigation and possible prosecution of members of the security forces accused of serious human rights abuses; insists that an investigation be carried out into allegations of grave human rights abuses and war crimes committed during the civil war by senior figures from all sides; asks the Government of Sri Lanka to end the practice of appointing current and former military commanders implicated in serious abuses to senior government positions; 
  4.   Calls for a rigorous, impartial, and complete investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in line with international legal standards; calls, furthermore, for those against whom there is evidence of culpability to promptly be brought to trial, and for those for whom there is insufficient evidence to be released; 
  5.   Recalls that the GSP+ scheme offers the incentive of better access to the EU market for the country’s exporters, in return for further progress in fully implementing those conventions; recalls that one of Sri Lanka’s key commitments was to fully align its counterterrorism legislation with international human rights conventions in order to secure a favourable trading relationship under the GSP+; recalls the consequences foreseen in the GSP Regulation in the event of a persistent failure to adopt and enact the necessary human rights reforms, repeal abusive legislation, and reverse the current trajectory of increasing violations; 
  6.   Underlines that the GSP+ scheme offered to Sri Lanka has made a significant contribution to the country’s economy, from which exports to the EU have increased to € 2.3 billion, making the EU Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market; highlights the ongoing monitoring of Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status and stresses that the continuance of GSP+ trade preferences is not automatic; calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take into due account current events when assessing Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status; further calls on the Commission and the EEAS to use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA, to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible; 
  7.   Notes with concern the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the deteriorating labour rights’ situation in the country; urges Sri Lanka to co-operate fully with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to strengthen the labour rights of factory workers, including health and safety conditions for garment workers in special trade zones; calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to effectively implement and strengthen the National Policy on Elimination of Child Labour; calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to adapt the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka Labour Standard and Employment Relation Manual in order to bring it in line with international standards, notably ILO Convention Nos. 87 and 98; 
  8.   Reiterates the EU’s strong opposition to the death penalty, in all cases and without exception; welcomes Sri Lanka’s continued moratorium on the death penalty; urges the Government to abolish the use of capital punishment in the country; 
  9.   Welcomes the EU’s past support for reconciliation efforts and underscores the EU’s readiness to support Sri Lanka in this field; 
  10.   Expresses concern about the growing role and interference of China in Sri Lanka; 
  11.   Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, the Secretary General of the UN, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Government and Parliament of Sri Lanka. 

 

Govt. responds 

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on Friday (11) responded to the EU Parliament’s adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka, which stated that the MPs propose to use the GSP+ as leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA. 

Gunawardena had told The Morning that Sri Lanka’s relationship with the EU will continue to positively move forward. 

“Sri Lanka and the EU have been having friendly relations on all these matters,” Gunawardena has said. 

He had further stated that Sri Lanka had already started to take positive steps to address what is referred to in the resolution which was moved by the MPs of the EU Parliament. 

“We have already begun the process of addressing what is in the resolution, perhaps the members (EU MPs) did not know about this,” he had added. 

 

USAID meets Prez 

The US Embassy in Colombo last week dismissed recent media reports that claim several members of a US Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) including retired military personnel had entered Sri Lanka on tourist visas, as false. 

Several print media outlets stated that there were suspicions over several US NGO officials entering the country through travel visas. 

“These unsourced stories have been written with no regard for facts or fact checking. They suggest that Sri Lankan authorities are unaware of who is arriving in the country via the international airports, which as we all know, is not the case,” Spokesperson of the US Embassy in Colombo Nancy Van Horn told The Sunday Morning

Van Horn also stated that these reports are not a reflection of the Embassy’s experience in working with the Sri Lankan Government and NGOs on projects and programmes which benefit both nations, while respecting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. 

Meanwhile, US Embassy Chargé d’affaires Martin Kelly and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Sri Lanka Country Director Reed Aeschliman met with President Rajapaksa last week to discuss how the two countries could work together to promote economic prosperity through trade and private sector-led development for all Sri Lankans. The US stated that it is committed to a sovereign, secure, and healthy Sri Lanka. 

 

Lobby against US resolution  

 

As part of the Sri Lankan Government’s lobby against the US FAC resolution on Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Gunawardena has raised concerns with the US Embassy in Colombo over the proposed resolution which was introduced by Congresswoman Deborah Ross on 18 May 2021.  

This was when Chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Colombo, Kelly, called on Gunawardena at the Foreign Ministry last Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka, through Ambassador in Washington Ravinatha Aryasinha, has called on the US FAC not to proceed with H. RES. 413 on Sri Lanka, moved by Ross (Democrat/North Carolina). 

In a communication addressed to FAC Chair Representative Gregory Meeks (Democrat/New York) and Ranking Member Representative Michael McCaul (Republican/Texas), the Sri Lankan Government has noted that it vehemently opposes the contents of the resolution which contains allegations relating to Sri Lanka that are inaccurate, biased, and unsubstantiated, raising grave suspicions regarding the intention of the resolution. 

The communication had been accompanied by a detailed analysis of the resolution, which laid out paragraph by paragraph, its prejudicial nature. 

The Government has observed that the proposed resolution which equates the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – proscribed by the US since 1997 and named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2008 as “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world” – to an “armed independence organisation”, exposes the resolution’s origins and purpose.  

The Government had further noted that the resolution encourages separatism and questions even the nature of the Sri Lankan State, by references to “traditional Tamil homelands”.  

“The resolution’s wilful ignorance of the US’ own security concerns about the LTTE and its front organisations and efforts at glorification of terrorism, will give inspiration to rump elements of the LTTE and its numerous front organisations within the US and across the world, as well as to other terrorist organisations,” it has been noted. 

Furthermore, the Government of Sri Lanka has observed that the US has been “a consistent defence partner of Sri Lanka, including in Sri Lanka’s war against terror”.  

“The resolution, which is at significant variance with stated US policy, across administrations – both Democratic and Republican – may lead to an erroneous conclusion that the House supports armed acts to achieve political goals. This would undermine the US administration’s own foreign policy foundation of being rooted in democratic values, and negatively impact the warm bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the US.”