- EU delegation scheduled to visit on 27 Sept.
- Foreign Secretary Colombage says Govt. has nothing to hide
- Concerns raised by EU, including changes to PTA, being addressed
- Rules out an external mechanism to solve country’s internal problems
By Chandani Kirinde
Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage
The Government yesterday welcomed the upcoming visit by a delegation from the European Union (EU) to review the GSP+ facility for Sri Lanka.
The delegation is scheduled to arrive in the country on 27 September. “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,” Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage said.
Speaking to reporters at a virtual press conference at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC), the Foreign Secretary said members of the delegation will be meeting with the President, Prime Minister, Government Officials as well as other stakeholders during their visit.
He said the Government has already responded in writing to some of the queries made by the EU and have learnt from unofficial sources that they were well received.
One of the main concerns of the EU has been the continued use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to arrest persons and has noted Sri Lanka’s failure to repeal the Act despite its commitment to doing so.
Colombage said that the Government is committed to either amend the PTA or replace it with new counter-terrorism legislation that are in line with best international practices. An expert committee, appointed to recommend these changes, will submit a report within a day or two.
“The PTA was enacted more than 40 years ago and has completed its journey. It is clear that certain provisions in it are not in keeping with best practices of the present day. We are determined to find a way forward and address the concerns raised by the International Community,” he said.
Colombage said that while changes would be made to the PTA, national security will not be compromised in any manner.
The EU, in its Resolution earlier this year, noted that GSP+ scheme (the scheme of generalised tariff preferences) offered to Sri Lanka has made a significant contribution to the country’s economy, from which exports to the EU have increased to EUR 2.3 billion, making the EU Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market and highlighted the ongoing monitoring of Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status.
It stressed that the continuance of GSP+ trade preferences is not automatic and called 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 and for 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.
Colombage, who returned to the country after attending the UN Human Right Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva where an oral update on the Sri Lanka situation was delivered by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, reiterated the Government's rejection of any external mechanism to solve the internal issues of the country.
Speaking at the virtual media briefing on the topic ‘Geneva Allegations, the United Nations General Assembly and Sri Lanka's Foreign Policy’, Colombage said that UNHRC has not been given the power to set up such a mechanism, adding that solutions are available for all the problems of the country within Sri Lanka's domestic legal system.
He noted that Bachelet has commended the measures taken by the Sri Lankan Government on a number of issues, including payment of compensation on behalf of missing persons, the release of LTTE prisoners and the steps taken to amend the PTA.
He said that 15 countries, including China, Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Iraq and Venezuela, have joined hands with Sri Lanka in condemning the interference in Sri Lanka's internal affairs under the guise of human rights.
The Foreign Secretary said that they commended the Government's commitment to the protection of human rights, the maintenance of reconciliation and the eradication of terrorism.