Govt. in overdrive to amend anti-terror laws, fearing loss of GSP+ By Shamindra Ferdinando

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The government has briefed the EU on action taken to address the latter’s concerns about a range of matters, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The EU has, in a recently adopted resolution, expressed its serious concerns over the PTA and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka.

The EU has emphasised that the GSP+ status is linked to the implementation by Sri Lanka of 27 international conventions.

Sri Lanka was faced with the prospect of losing the GSP+ concessions, the EU mission in Colombo told The Island in response to a query.

“The GSP+ monitoring process is conducted on a regular basis by the European Commission and the European External Action Service,” the mission said.

SJB Spokesperson Mujibur Rahman recalled how the then Joint Opposition (now the SLPP) had sabotaged previous government’s efforts to address EU’s concerns. The SLPP should be ashamed of its response to the recent EU warning, MP Rahman said, alleging that the Foreign Ministry declaration that the government was revisiting the provisions of the PTA was nothing but a joke.

Rahman urged the government to examine the work done by the previous administration in that regard. “When we sought to amend the PTA taking into consideration concerns expressed by the EU and several members of the international community, our efforts were sabotaged,” MP Rahman said, pointing out that the Rajapaksa government simply dismissed stepped up international calls to amend the PTA following the successful conclusion of the war in 2009.

Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, who had served as the spokesperson for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during the previous administration yesterday told The Island that the JO found fault with the then government’s efforts to amend the PTA. Referring to a series of talks they had with the participation of various stakeholders, including senior representatives of the Attorney General’s Department, civil society activist Gunawardena alleged the JO/SLPP played politics with the issue.

Obviously, the government fearing punitive EU measures in the wake of adoption of a resolution in respect of Sri Lanka, recently declared its intention to appoint two committees to review the PTA and submit reports within three months, lawyer Gunawardena said.

He said there wouldn’t have been a need for an EU resolution if the previous government was not deprived of an opportunity to enact the PTA.

The JO/SLPP justified the blocking of amendments in the wake of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, one-time Director General of the Information Department said. Gunawardena ridiculed the declaration that the government was ready to study what the Foreign Ministry called international best practices. “When the previous government stressed the need for us to adopt and amend anti-terrorism laws in line with laws in place in other countries, we were accused of betraying the country.”

Both MP Rahman and lawyer Gunawardena alleged that the government took up the PTA in parliament recently because the possibility of losing GSP plus amidst rapidly deteriorating financial situation frightened the incumbent administration

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry yesterday issued the following statement regarding ongoing deliberations with the EU: “The Government of Sri Lanka has apprised the European Union (EU) of progress in specific areas of reconciliation, as part of its regular engagement and dialogue with the organization. Accordingly, the Foreign Ministry on 25 June, informed the EU of action underway to revisit provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, No 48 of 1979, with the study of existing legislation, past practice, and international best practices.

The EU was informed of the decision made by the Cabinet of Ministers on 21 June to appoint a Cabinet Sub-committee and an Officials Committee to assist the Cabinet Sub-Committee, to review the PTA, and to submit a report to the Cabinet within three months. Toward this end, the Officials Committee was appointed on 24 June, with senior representation from the Ministries of Justice, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Public Security; and the Attorney General’s Department, the Legal Draftsman’s Department, the Sri Lanka Police, and the Office of Chief of National Intelligence.

The EU was further informed of the granting of pardon by the President, exercising his powers in terms of Article 34 of the Constitution, to sixteen (16) former LTTE cadres convicted and serving sentence under the PTA, on 24 June. The organization was also appraised of the process that has been set in motion to release detainees who have been in judicial custody for a prolonged period, under the PTA.

With reference to progress in ongoing reconciliation mechanisms, the Government has informed the EU of the release of SL Rs 79 million to the Office of Reparations in June to settle 1,230 processed claims for reparation. An additional SL Rs 80 million was released on 29 June to settle a further 1,451 processed claims, out of a total 3,389 processed claims.

The Government of Sri Lanka maintains a regular, cordial and multifaceted dialogue with the EU. This includes the constructive cooperation existing between Sri Lanka and the European Commission on the review of the country’s EU GSP+ compliance with the 27 core International Conventions.

In this regard, the Third Cycle of Review of Sri Lanka in the GSP+ Monitoring Process for 2020-2021 is ongoing. As part of this process, the Foreign Ministry has provided to the European Commission through diplomatic channels, the comprehensive Response of the Government of Sri Lanka to the List of Follow-up Questions on the current GSP+ monitoring cycle, in adherence to the agreed timeline. The Response was compiled by the Foreign Ministry in consultation with 26 line ministries / state ministries / agencies and commissions. A GSP+ Monitoring Mission for the Third Cycle is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on mutually convenient dates in September/ October 2021.

As per the regular engagement between Sri Lanka and the EU, plans are underway to convene the Working Group on Governance, Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law on mutually agreed dates in the fourth quarter of this year. The Foreign Ministry looks forward to convening, in consultation with the EU, the 24th session of the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission in the first quarter of 2022, to review all aspects of bilateral cooperation.

The Government of Sri Lanka will continue its close and cordial dialogue with the EU with regard to commitments, while demonstrating the country’s substantial progress in areas of reconciliation and development.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage have met senior representatives of the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Sri Lanka, the Seafood Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka (SEASL) and trade unions, and reassured them of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the EU GSP+ would continue to remain beneficial to the country. Meetings with the relevant Chambers of Commerce are scheduled, with a view to updating them on the Government’s engagement with the EU.”

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Disclaimer: Govt. in overdrive to amend anti-terror laws, fearing loss of GSP+ By Shamindra Ferdinando - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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