The European Union (EU) has found that there has been insufficient progress on a number of major issues in Sri Lanka since the unity Government took office 2015.
At a discussion on the implementation of the General System of Preferences (GSP Plus) in Sri Lanka, a report to the EU Parliament last week noted that two years on, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe National Unity Government is struggling to deliver on all aspects of its far-reaching reform agenda.
In particular, the report notes that in the former conflict areas, there is disappointment over the slow progress in implementing UNHRC resolution 30/1.
As stated in the February 2017 report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, overall, some progress has been made in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, but many of the reforms the Government has committed to have stalled or sufficient progress was not made.
There has been insufficient progress on a number of major issues such as the continued use of torture, the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and its replacement with counter-terrorism legislation that is in line with international standards, the amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure to include the right of detainees to immediate access to legal counsel, the return of land occupied by the military, and establishing the truth about the fate of the missing and disappeared persons during the civil war and its aftermath.
GSP+ preferences for Sri Lanka were withdrawn in 2010 due to significant shortcomings in the country’s implementation of three UN human rights conventions.
Sri Lanka was readmitted to GSP+ as from 19 May 2017. A GSP+ monitoring mission took place in Sri Lanka from 5 to 13 September 2017, including a visit to Jaffna.
The report notes that the Government embarked on an ambitious reform agenda, recalibrated its foreign policy to re-engage with the wider international community, instituted significant improvements in fundamental freedoms, and committed to the development of a sustainable macroeconomic strategy.
The Government set out a programme of major reforms to address reconciliation and accountability, democracy, the rule of law, better governance and economic development. Sri Lanka has re-engaged with the international community and made a series of impressive commitments to national reconciliation, as articulated in its co-sponsorship of Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 (2015) on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
The Government has issued a standing invitation to all UN special procedures and several have visited the country. EU-Sri Lanka relations have also been rejuvenated and regular dialogue takes place under the 1995 Cooperation Agreement, including annual meetings of the Joint Commission and its working groups. This includes the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law, and Human Rights, which has already met twice. It is the first time a Sri Lankan Government has entered into human rights dialogue with the EU.