Colombo, January 16 (The New Indian Express): The report of the European Commission’s technical team which examined Sri Lanka’s application for the restoration of General System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) duty concessions has concluded that the island nation now meets the eligibility criteria as set out in Art 9 (1) of the GSP regulations.
Subsequent to the submission of the report, the European Commission recommended to the EU parliament that GSP + be granted to Sri Lanka. The EU parliament was expected to take it up on Monday.
However, any decision on the restoration of GSP+ will have to be accepted by the parliament of every EU member country. Sri Lankan Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva told Sunday Observer that the entire process could take two to four months to be completed.
Though Sri Lankan opposition parties and some Tamil parties say that EU parliaments could still deny GSP+ to Sri Lanka, the general view in the Western world and the UN is that Sri Lanka is returning to democracy and restoring ethnic harmony and that it would be appropriate to support the trend in every way possible.
Details of EU Report
While noting that there are still shortcomings, these “ do not amount to a serious failure to effectively implement the Convention that would prevent Sri Lanka from joining the GSP +,” the report said.
“Since 2010, there are significant elements of progress. In this respect, Sri Lanka has implemented several important actions to address observed shortcomings and respond to recommendations made in the report of the CESCR (Committee on Economic ,Social and Cultural Rights).”
“ A new independent Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and several other Commissions have been appointed following the enactment of the 19th Constitutional Amendment in May 2015. The National Plan of Action for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2011-2016 was adopted and a process is underway for a new Action Plan 2017-2021.”
In October 2015, Sri Lanka co-sponsored UNHRC Resolution 30/1 and steps are being taken to implement it. For example, a decision has been taken to establish an Office of Missing Persons. In January 2016 a Victim and Witness Protection Authority was established. The Registration of Deaths Act has been amended to enable the issuance of Certificates of Absence.
The Human Rights Council of Sri Lanka is mandated to visit prisons and has issued Directives to be followed by the police to ensure that the fundamental rights and humane treatment of persons arrested or detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are respected.
The Commanders of the Army, Navy and the Air Force have issued instructions to all service personnel in March and April 2016, that strict action will be taken against any human rights violations. Furthermore, the President of Sri Lanka, as Commander of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defense, issued in June 2016, directions requiring all armed forces and police to ensure that the fundamental rights and human treatment of persons arrested or detained are respected and assist the HRCSL to perform its functions and duties.
The Government has made available a complete list of detainees and those released from detention to family members.
Furthermore, detainees held under Emergency Regulations and the PTA are being released.
In November 2016 Policy Framework and National Action Plan to address sexual and gender-based violence (2016-2020) was launched. The Penal Code (Amendment) Act No. 16, was adopted in 2006 and has, inter alia, made it a penal offence to engage and recruit a child for use in armed conflict and in child labor, child trafficking and child pornography.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka has ratified a number of international instruments, including the Convention on Enforced Disappearances (2016), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2016) and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2006).
In particular, the Government has committed to replace the PTA with a new Bill on counter-terrorism, to be presented to the Parliament in January 2017. The new Bill has to be compatible with international human rights and counter-terrorism standards. In July 2016 an inter-institutional Committee to take preventive measures against torture was established.
“In view of the fact that salient shortcomings have been identified in a relatively low number of areas and of the significant elements of progress, it is considered that there is no serious failure to effectively implement the Convention,” the EU committee’s report said.
Social and Economic Rights
On ensuring social and economic rights, the report said that the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act (2003) has been adopted, raising the minimum age of employment from 12 to 14 years.
In addition, the age of compulsory schooling has been raised from 14 to 16 years. In order to improve freedom of association in EPZs, two more free facilitation centers have been established in Wathupitiwala and Kandy in addition to the three existing ones, to allow trade union leaders to meet their members.
Furthermore, a strengthened labor administration system is in place in respect of EPZs, whereby Labor Inspectors visit the Zones with a view to address the concerns of workers. The National Human Resources and Employment Policy for Sri Lanka sets eliminating child labor in hazardous activities as a priority and a goal of zero tolerance for the worst forms of child labor by 2016.
Sri Lanka has established the Ministry of Foreign Employment and adopted the Sri Lanka National Policy on Labor Migration which focuses on concerns of migrant women workers. It should also be noted that Sri Lanka has achieved or almost achieved Millennium Development Goals, especially in health, education, gender equality and child mortality (Sri Lanka Millennium Development Goals Country Report 2014).
A Committee has been appointed in June 2016, which is working on amendments under Muslim law regarding the minimum age of marriage. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (2005) is being amended to provide safeguarding measures for children and women.
“GSP plus duty free concession will be close to ten percent. In a competitive market it is a huge amount. Over a thousand different items can be exported to Europe without any duty at all, if we qualify for GSP plus. Since the facility was withdrawn in 2010, Sri Lanka had lost export potential worth US$ 1 billion,” Deputy Foreign Minister Dr.Harsha de Silva told Sunday Observer.
(The featured image at the top shows a female worker in a Sri Lankan factory making garments for well known Western brands)