Human Rights

Challenge for Sri Lanka exports following UN torture review

Sri Lanka is faced with the risk of losing much needed trade concessions from Europe if the country fails to provide credible answers to questions raised by the UN about torture in detention.

The UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) convening in Geneva will publish its latest findings on torture in Sri Lanka on 8 December which is expected to be highly critical about the country's commitment on taking action to stop torture.

Sri Lanka was unable to provide a credible response to a series of questions raised by the Committee in mid-November regarding allegations of torture in detention by two special police units.

UNCAT vice chair Felice Gaer specifically directed the questions to Sri Lanka spy chief Sisira Mendis who sat quietly through a two-day session in Geneva.

JDS is in possession of a written response that the Committee received as requested from the Sri Lanka delegation following the session, which has not answered any of the questions raised about the conduct of the police Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) under Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sisira Mendis in the final months of the civil war.

Regaining GSP+

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is optimistic that it will be able to regain European trade concessions for its exports lost in August 2010 due to the country’s poor human rights record.

Following high level talks with EU officials, Sri Lanka prime minister claimed that the country will be able to Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concessions next year.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who had discussions with High representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in Brussels in October announced that GSP+ will be restored to Sri Lanka by the first half of next year “if the implementation of political and economic reforms of the present government continues unabated”.

Casting doubt on Sri Lanka’s sincerity in honouring human rights and accountability during the bloody civil war and its aftermath, Australian Senator Lee Rhianon has called upon the EU to consider Sri Lanka’s record on torture when consider granting the GSP+ concession.

“As in 2010, the EU again has the opportunity to hold the Sri Lankan government to account and end entrenched impunity. This opportunity must not be lost,” the senator for New South Wales told parliament in November, immediately following the UNCAT review.

EU and UNCAT

In withdrawing GSP+ from Sri Lanka in 2010, the EU had identified significant shortcomings in Sri Lanka implementing the Convention against Torture among three UN human rights conventions.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are the other two.

“The most important part of the GSP+ story is played out in Sri Lanka for the obvious reason that it is through compliance with the 27 International Conventions that merits the granting, or not, of the GSP+,” David Daly, Ambassador of the European Union to Sri Lanka told the Association of Sri Lankan Apparel Exporters in Colombo in 2015.

Sri Lanka was a major beneficiary of the trading opportunities offered by GSP+. In 2008, EU imports from Sri Lanka under GSP+ totalled EUR 1.24 billion.

The most important import products benefiting from these trade preferences were T-shirts and other clothing items, as well as fisheries products.

EU lifted its ban on Sri Lankan fish imports in June this year.

© JDS