Europe targets trade incentives and anti-terror funding to Sri Lanka

Debt-ridden Sri Lanka risks losing privileged access to the EU market and anti-terror funding as the European Parliament voted for tougher action against the island nation.

The European Parliament’s (EP) decision comes in the backdrop of the steadily deteriorating human rights situation in the country with the Rajapaksa government rapidly backtracking on delivering commitments under the previous administration.

On Thursday, Brussels based EP adopted a resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arbitrary arrests under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).


EP has urged the European Commission to suspend the Generalised Scheme of Preferences known as GSP+ to Sri Lanka if its assessment finds that the human rights obligations have not been respected.

Sri Lanka’s Human rights record will be put to test during the forthcoming GSP+ review in November this year when the European Union will rigorously assess the country’s implementation of its international human rights obligations.

GSP+ is a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance. It offers the incentive of better access to the EU market by the removal of import duties on products coming from vulnerable and low- and middle-income countries.

However, GSP+ concession comes with certain conditions. According to the European Union’s Trade policy countries who seek and get the concession, “must implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance”.

Apart from expressing serious concern at the rapid deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka, the EP in its resolution also noted “with concern the increasing restriction of civic space, the widespread arbitrary arrests, and detention without due process, the targeting of minorities and the increasing militarisation of the government”.

Speaking at the EP plenary session debate on Thursday, European Commissioner for Equality recalled that Sri Lanka in the run-up to its readmission to the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) in 2017 committed itself to amending the PTA to bring it in line with international standards.

“We see the removal of constitutional safeguards, we see lack of accountability, we see discourse to exclude people, we see civil society being excluded and we see the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain activists, writers and more,” said Commissioner Helena Dalli.

Hejaaz Hizbullah & Ahnaf Jazeem

The members of the European Parliament have also voiced their support for the release of human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and poet Ahnaf Jazeem and others unjustly detained under the PTA. It calls on the Attorney General to grant bail to all those who qualify under the law and insists that all detainees must be granted meaningful access to lawyers, contact with family and cooperation with unannounced visits by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

The European Parliament, “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 Criminal Investigation Department; 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;” said the resolution.

Sri Lanka also risks losing funds to its counter terrorism activities due to the use of PTA to persecute minorities.

The EP resolution “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;”.

Frustrated with the current government rejecting any international involvement to deliver justice and accountability to mostly Tamil victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the UN Human Rights Council recommended the use of legal action outside the country.

However, the EP called upon the government of Sri Lanka to probe its own military.

Extra judicial detention

The resolution, “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;”

Sri Lanka’s new 'deradicalization regulation' allow authorities to detain suspected radicals up to two years without any judicial process. Human rights bodies have condemned it as a move targeting minorities, especially Muslims. The EP calls for the immediate suspension of the deradicalisation regulations.

The adopted resolutions will now be forwarded to European countries who are represented in the EP to decide on the nature of action to be taken.

Should the countries decide to pull the plug on the GSP+ concessions, Sri Lanka stands to lose its export market significantly. With EU being Sri Lanka’s single largest trading partner export-import will suffer causing considerable loss of foreign exchange.

Garment exports, Sri Lanka’s second-biggest foreign exchange earner after remittances have benefitted significantly from concessional tariffs.

It is estimated that Sri Lanka may lose over 150 million dollars if GSP+ is withdrawn. The consequence will be Sri Lankan goods getting more expensive and less attractive in the international market.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.