National Press Council
The Sri Lankan government has said it is rejecting the 15 conditions set out by the European Union in relation to extending the benefits of the GSP Plus tariff concession since such demands constitute a violation of our national sovereignty.
The government has also announced that it will deny visas to the three members of the panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to advise him on human rights issues pertaining to Sri Lanka's recently concluded civil war. The Sri Lankan government's position is that both the EU and UN Secretary General are interfering in the affairs of a sovereign state and that this is unacceptable.
As a democratic country which has subscribed to the UN Declarations on Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions, Sri Lanka is obliged to comply with their obligations. Similarly the requirements of the EU are in accordance with our Constitution which we are all morally obliged to uphold. Safeguarding our national sovereignty also needs to go hand in hand with upholding human rights and Humanitarian Laws.
There are sections of the international community that believe Sri Lanka violated them in recent years and during the last phase of the war. The government will have to make all efforts to convince the world that we did not do so. It was due to the violation of the laws of war during the Second World War as shown in such incidents as the carpet bombing of Dresden and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that there was an outcry against such violations that the UN was set up after the war and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up by a team that included eminent men drawn from all major religions with Buddhism being represented by U Thant.
We believe that the government has taken the right step in setting up the Commission on the Lessons of the Conflict. Unfortunately and based on earlier experiences the composition of the Commission and the Terms of Reference appear not to have convinced the UN that its rightful concerns will be fully addressed. Under the circumstances, the NPC believes the Government can engage itself with the UN and seek to broaden the mandate of our own Commission in return for not appointing a separate UN Commission.
As for the 15 conditions being put forward by the EU they are aimed at addressing some of the general problems of internal governance and human rights within Sri Lanka in accordance with international covenants that Sri Lanka has already signed. In addition, the issues raised by the EU have also been raised by the democratic opposition and civil society groups within Sri Lanka itself.
The National Peace Council believes that instead of outright rejection of the EU's conditions, the Sri Lankan government ought to respond to them in a positive manner. The response made by Sri Lanka's Ministry of External Affairs, pointing out the inapplicability of some of the EU requirements, could provide a model for a continuing dialogue with the EU on the need to modify its requirements.
If there are some conditions that the government feels it cannot accede to for good reasons that are in the country's national interests, these could be explained and the EU will need to be open minded in seeing the Sri Lankan government's point of view.
There are two benefits that could accrue to Sri Lanka by responding positively to the EU. This can be done in a phased manner and according to a road map that is reasonable following discussions and agreement with the EU. First it can retain the GSP Plus concession which is of major importance to the Sri Lankan economy and to its working people.
Second, and as important if not more important, it can send a message to the larger international community that the Sri Lankan government is genuinely responsive to concerns about good governance and human rights as it affects its own people, and also is prepared to live up to its international commitments.
If the EU requirements are met after further negotiations by a responsive Sri Lankan government, this would help to address the issues raised by the UN Secretary General and rally greater support from the larger international community to the Sri Lankan government's own concerns. The net result will be an upliftment of the political, economic and social status of all Sri Lankans.