GSP+ and human rights

Saturday, 26 November 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The absence of GSP+ has cost this country billions of rupees in terms of export revenue since 2010 – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

By Jagath C. Savanadasa

Though the EU according to reliable sources is expected to resume GSP plus trade concessions to Sri Lanka, there is the view that it is also dependent on requirements of the EU in regard to human rights. 

This is the observation made by a leading Indian newspaper, The Indian Express, in a recent article. The ‘Express’ says that with improvements in the human rights situation after the present President was elected to office in January 2015, Sri Lanka lodged an application seeking restoration of the trade concessions afforded by GSP+.

In consideration of the request, the EU dispatched a four-member inspection team to the island last week. The team had held discussions in Colombo plus in Tamil areas of Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

Quite apart from the examination of the current situation in such areas, the team will make available to the EU their observations in respect of the international conventions on human rights and conditions imposed by the body. In a crux whether human rights are being implemented in the manner the EU expects.

According to the ‘Indian Express’, the bone of contention would be, the proposed amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The newspaper adds that the Government will need to depart from the existent stance in this regard and change the law so as to fall within the EU’s recommendations and also the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council’s September 2015 resolution, which Sri Lanka co-sponsored.

One tricky area relates to the International Protocol on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Protocol specifically says that a detainee should have the right to take assistance of a lawyer from the outset of questioning by the Police.

But that is different from the Sri Lankan law, which allows access to legal assistance at the point of the accused being produced in Court.

And during the intervening period namely the arrest and production in Court, it is possible to extract a confession through the use even of torture.

The present administration to its credit, did try to change the law but owing to objections raised by the security establishment it continued to stick to the old or the existing system.

A Tamil lawyer and Member of Parliament, a prime mover of the proposed amendment, protested in Parliament seeking a reversion of the PTI, but it did not seem to yield the expected results.

It would appear despite moves to repeal it, the PTA is to be retained.

It all points finally to the failure despite good intentions to the tacit acceptance of the original PTA, and at the bottom of all this, according to informed sources is the security establishment. In the PTA in current usage a confession by an accused to an officer of the rank of an ASP and above is admissible in a Court of Law. Though not in the exact manner something similar in regard to a confession, it is feared, may remain even in the proposed amendment. 

According to the Express’s viewpoint the EU will not be satisfied and a confession made to anyone sans legal assistance cannot be admitted as evidence in Court, since it could be the result of torture.

What is more, the newspaper observes that UN Rapporteur on torture has said that torture is routine in Sri Lanka.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka since January 2015, 466 cases of Torture has been reported to the Commission.

As it stands, the paper says very little progress has been made to introduce a Witness Production Act as a remedy to such a situation wherein witnesses are threatened as a matter of routine.

This writer feels that GSP+ is an important facet of this country’s trade with the EU. The absence of GSP+ has cost this country billions of rupees in terms of export revenue since 2010. Furthermore, with Britain’s exit from the EU and the consequent trading implications in the rest of the EU nations, the restoration of GSP+ is highly desirable from the point of view of the country’s trade with the European Union.