Shirking a moral duty to Sri Lanka by Suren Surendiran

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Dandelion Salad

Thanks to Suren Surendiran who sent this to DS.  His website:

crossposted on
9 October 2009

The EU acknowledges that Sri Lanka does not comply with human rights obligations, yet still grants it trade preferences

In 2005, when the EU’s generous tariff preferences arrangement, the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+), was under review, Romano Prodi challenged why, of the countries in the region, Sri Lanka should be granted GSP+ status instead of, say, India or Pakistan. The then Sri Lankan prime minister argued that GSP+ benefits would assist in post-tsunami reconstruction. Sri Lanka’s case prevailed on the strength of the then peace process and the existence of an internationally sponsored ceasefire agreement of 2002, which position found resonance with the EU but which the government of Sri Lanka unilaterally abrogated in January 2008.

Since 2005, Sri Lanka has enjoyed more than three years of GSP+ granted to developing countries primarily to support sustainable economic growth, development and good governance. This has helped make exports to the EU the country’s biggest source of foreign exchange, worth $3.3bn last year.

To benefit from GSP+, countries must have ratified and implemented key international conventions – 23 of the most important international conventions relating to core political, human and labour rights – and demonstrated that their economies were “dependent and vulnerable”.

In October 2008 to consider extension of the privilege, the European commission initiated an investigation with respect to the effective implementation of human rights conventions, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Sri Lanka slammed the doors shut to any EU probe, saying it would not betray sovereignty to obtain economic benefits.

This investigation was initiated even after May 2008, when the international community finally acknowledged that in Sri Lanka human rights were abused by the government and its agents and that there was no credible systems to persecute such perpetrators. This they did by evicting the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) from the 47-member council of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Abuses and violations of human rights of an entire community continued, and in fact increased beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.

This year, for the first time in Sri Lanka’s gory history, the world witnessed the extent of Tamil blood the Sri Lankan state was willing to shed in the name of “liberating” the island. Despite the protests and media coverage, little came of the pleas of the Tamil diaspora and international calls to end the “bloodbath” that prevailed in May 2009.

Having uprooted and herded over 330,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) into a small slither of land, unilaterally designated by the Sri Lankan government as a “safe zone”, the military inflicted relentless aerial bombardment, indiscriminate shelling of schools, hospitals and shelter by land, sea and air. Food and medicines were used as weapons of war, with a complete media blackout guaranteeing the government’s accounts were the only ones heard. The damning evidence of the British medic Damilvany Gnanakumar, who witnessed the final days of the conflict and who was detained in the camps until last month, provide a stark contrast to the Sri Lankan government’s claims of “zero civilian casualties”. Most of her stories were corroborated by accounts by international agencies like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN.

In June 2009 the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, convened an emergency session in Geneva calling for an “independent and credible international investigation” into human rights violations by both warring parties. GoSL once again rejected the demands, instead successfully exploiting the UNHRC special session, much to the amazement of human rights groups calling for an international probe, in passing a resolution celebrating its “glorious victory” and allowing it to conduct its own investigation into breaches of international law. The politically manipulated, flawed voting passed by unchallenged, questioning the very purpose of the council and the systems in place to protect humanity.

With the survivors of the “final war” securely imprisoned in military-run internment camps and with the silencing of voices of dissent, the Rajapakse regime continues to keep the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka off the world agenda. More than 280,000 Tamils, including more than 50,000 children, remain “caged” in barbed wire camps under conditions that UN rights experts have likened to “arbitrary detention”, families are separated, the media blackout continues, access for aid agencies remains denied and the reign of impunity ensures abductions, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings, rape and torture remain rife.

With this backdrop, the Economist on 3 September published an article that said:

Rarely has a government soiled its reputation as dramatically as Sri Lanka’s. In recent months President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime has won a war and lost the love of many allies.

Its alleged wartime and other abuses make a grim catalogue: thousands of Tamil civilians allegedly killed by army shelling during the rebels’ last stand; scores of Tamils disappeared; nearly 300,000 Tamil war-displaced callously interned; murder and intimidation of journalists – including JS Tissainayagam, sentenced to 20 years hard labour on August 31st for criticising the army’s tactics.

Disturbing footage aired on Channel 4 News, showing the extra-judicial execution of Tamils by Sri Lankan government soldiers, caused uproar world over at the unashamed disrespect to life and humanity.

The initiation of the EU probe last year to assess renewing GSP+ status to Sri Lanka has prompted little action until now, with last-ditch attempts to hoodwink the international community. The EU has a momentous opportunity to convey a clear message to Sri Lanka.

Unless a clear message is sent by withdrawing the GSP+ privilege from GoSL for being in breach of qualifying conditions, Sri Lanka and other states that enjoy such privileges will continue with human rights violations and lack of systems and governance and maintain the status quo. The fundamental idea of assisting with development of these countries will be lost if such opportunities are missed to put these governments on the right track.

The EU followed its principles and values when it withdrew GSP+ from Belarus in December 2006 for its breach in implementing conventions covered under the International Labour Organisation.

The leaked 130-page EU-commissioned report on Sri Lanka’s compliance concludes:

The three conventions under scrutiny have not been effectively implemented in Sri Lanka. That is the case even if the Government of Sri Lanka has denied non-compliance … The Sri Lankan legislation does also contain provisions which are not in compliance with the conventions.

In addition it must be noted that effective implementation of the conventions has not been, and cannot, be achieved by means of the case law of the Sri Lankan courts … In the emergency legislation human rights are restricted beyond that which is permitted according to the conventions and sweeping powers are given to the authorities.

Many of the state authorities in Sri Lanka entrusted with the task of protecting human rights have lost their legitimacy and credibility because of the non-application of the 17th amendment to the constitution … The absence of a witness protection programme and harassment of witnesses discourages witnesses from appearing and operates as a disincentive to make complaints … The court system has failed … The mass internment of the civilian population in the north is both arbitrary and disproportionate … The legislation, in particular the anti-terrorist legislation, imposes limitations on the freedom of expression which are not compatible with the obligations under the ICCPR … The criminal justice system of Sri Lanka has critical shortcomings that obstruct justice for victims of human rights violations … the fact that the police have increasingly been given a quasi-military role in the insurgency, during which they have become, along with the armed forces, significant perpetrators of violations, rather than investigators … rights of persons belonging to national minorities, in particular to the Tamil population from in the east and north, have not been adequately protected.

On the basis of the preceding findings, the panel has come to the conclusion that the ICCPR, the CAT and the CRC have not been effectively implemented in Sri Lanka

Even after such a damning indictment, reports of a possible “conditional” extension Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status has left many Tamils to wonder whether they will ever see justice.

“Never again” the UN said after Rwanda. President Obama said at the UN last month:

The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told the International Peace Institute in June:

I believe deeply that atrocities are not inevitable. They need not be part of the landscape of world politics – unless we let them be. In recent years, our consciences have been seared by the horrors of Srebrenica, Rwanda, and Darfur. Today, we are challenged again by the desperate plight of civilians in such places as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka, among others.

Do we really want the Tamil child who lost both her parents in the war and is now kept in the illegal barbed wired camp as an orphan to believe in international law, charters, conventions and above all in the world leaders who refuse to accept moral responsibility to protect?


2 thoughts on “Shirking a moral duty to Sri Lanka by Suren Surendiran

  1. Pingback: Stop Sri Lanka’s crimes by Suren Surendiran « Dandelion Salad

  2. Oh God, another genocide in the world, this time perpetrated against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka. The U.N., as usual, is a completely impotent instrument to prevent these massacres, being controlled by such warmongering and uncaring countries as the United States. If the United States were truly committed to the noble things it says it stands for, all it would take is a few US warships off the coast of Sri Lanka and that little Tamil girl looking through the barbed wire of a concentration camp would be freed immediately.

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