by Zacki Jabbar
The European Union says Sri Lankan Tamils are losing hope in their government due to the slow progress in its reconciliation programme and addressing accountability issues arising from the war with the separatist Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009.
Head of a visiting delegation of the European Parliament Jean Lambert, said in Colombo last week, that Tamil political and civil society leaders in Jaffna had expressed disappointment that the promised change they had voted for in electing Maithripala Sirisena as President on January 8, 2015 was not happening fast enough.
Emphasising that the momentum should not be lost, Jean noted that allegations of war crimes against the security forces and the LTTE, the operation of the Office of Missing Persons, reparation and return of all civilian lands in the former war affected areas to the original owners, among other humanitarian issues, need to be addressed.
Welcoming a number of positive developments that had taken place since their last official visit, including a decision to readmit Sri Lanka to its GSP+ scheme and the lifting of the ban on fisheries exports to the EU market, she said that it would create more job opportunities and foster bilateral trade. “However, we have underlined during our discussions that GSP+ was granted as an incentive for the reform process that the government of Sri Lanka has embarked on. We also clarified that a condition for the European Parliament not to oppose the granting of GSP+ was to follow closely the implementation of the 27 international conventions on Human Rights, Good Governance, Labour Rights and Environment.”
The EU delegation, comprising the Chair, Jean Lambert (UK), Vice-Chair Richard Corbett (UK), Ulrike Mueller (Germany) and Wajid Khan (UK), acknowledged the difficulties involved in addressing accountability issues. “But, as a first step, the Prevention of Terrorism Act needs to be modernised to meet international standards. That is the key. We hope it would be done speedily in keeping with the assurances that led to the restoration of GSP Plus in May.”
Jean said that the EU understood the difficulties in implementing the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution, calling for allegations of war crimes against the Security Forces and LTTE to be investigated.
That resolution would obviously have to be implemented, but for the EU Parliament the immediate concern was the delay in amending the PTA as pledged, she observed. “During meetings with Ministers and officials, we found that there was a willingness to implement the GSP+ Agreement as well as address accountability issues, but the slow progress was a matter of concern.”
Jean welcomed the proposed Constitutional changes. She pointed out that it was entirely for Sri Lankans to decide how best to achieve reconciliation in the post war era.
EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka Tung-Lai Margue said the deadlines for implementing the GSP Plus Agreement and UNHRC resolution were different, but they needed to be implemented.
Asked if Sri Lanka was reaping the benefits of GSP+ ,Counsellor at the EU Mission in Colombo Paul Godfrey, quoting Development and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema said, that exports to the EU had increased by USD 500 million and 20,000 more jobs had been created.
The visit provided Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) with an opportunity to inform themselves of developments since their last official visit in 2016 and to discuss issues of common interest with the Sri Lankan authorities. The delegation visited the Northern Province on November 1 and met Governor Reginald Cooray and civil society representatives. They also toured an EU-funded resettlement site and held discussions with some of the people there.
In Colombo, the MEPs held talks with Development and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan. They also met senior officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Labour and National Integration and Reconciliation.
On November 2, the MEPs held discussions with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on the occasion of the 9th Inter-Parliamentary Meeting of the European and Sri Lankan Parliaments.
The MEPs encouraged the Sirisena – Wickemesinghe administration to pursue their deliberations on Constitutional Reform with a view to strengthening the protection of human rights, democracy, rule of law and the process of national reconciliation.
They regretted that the release of land in the North had been slower than expected and compensation had not yet been paid for land that the authorities intend to retain.
The EU should remain engaged and further strengthen its relations with Sri Lanka, at this a crucial stage of its history, the MEPs added.