By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Several Tamil Diaspora organizations have made joint representations to political and diplomatic missions, including the EU Parliament, exerting pressure on them against restoring to Sri Lanka the GSP plus export facility unless the Lankan Government implements core international conventions which are a prerequisite to qualify for the restoration.
The Diaspora has through European Parliament Members called for a debate in the EU Parliament on the issue and has been lobbying in the EU Commissioner’s office against restoration of the facility to Sri Lanka.
The British Tamil Forum (BTF) said their lobbying has made a ‘massive impact. It said that before the final decision, expected in March or by 12 May 2017, they would want a clear picture of Sri Lanka’s status vis-à-vis her commitments and promises to international bodies.
The United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC), Sweden Tamil Forum (STF) and the BTF have told Members of the EU Parliament (UK –MEPs) that Sri Lanka has not complied with treaty obligations which are at the core of the GSP+ process. Those obligations include commitments under prevention of torture , repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1978 , Witness Protection Act and ending militarization in Sri Lanka’s North and East.
The European Commission assessment report released on 11 January also noted that monitoring bodies of the relevant conventions have detected significant shortcomings in connection with the above mentioned conventions. The report also said the Commission will be paying particular attention to the identified shortcomings in its monitoring of the effective implementation of international conventions by Sri Lanka. The assessment, however, states that “as concluded above, it is considered that there is no serious failure by Sri Lanka to effectively implement any of these conventions.”
The diaspora groups have conducted private discussions towards the end of last year with the European Commission at which the EC had confirmed its decision will likely be to recommend restoration of the GSP+ facility in January, but a final decision on that was not a ‘foregone’ conclusion.
The EU Commission explained that GSP+ is intended to be a tool of influence, and that it is meant to increase leverage over GoSL’s reforms.
Also, stressing the importance of synchronizing the EU decision-making process with the UN Human Rights process, the BTF has started lobbying European Parliament Members at State level.
The diaspora is also pushing the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to enforce a more minute scrutinizing process before giving Sri Lanka the green light.
The EU Parliament insists that GSP + beneficiaries will have to build a positive record of compliance with their obligations.
The diaspora delegation met with Cecile Billaux (Member of Malmstrom’s Cabinet) and Andreas Julin (Policy Coordinator, DG Trade) on 20 December to discuss Sri Lanka’s GSP+ application and pressed Billaux on the Commission’s thinking on recommending GSP+ restoration. Billaux has said their reporting suggested that the GoSL is on the right trajectory relating to the 27 conventions that must be met for GSP+ eligibility.
The Tamil group also met Emma McClarkin, MEP, Conservative Party and Jean Lambert, a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance political group in the European Parliament and explained the need of monitoring in compliance with the EU conditions, and stated that Pakistan has a national GSP+ compliance committee and urged that Sri Lanka discusses such monitoring mechanisms for implementation.
The Tamil Diaspora intends proceeding to the US State Department to meet the new South Asian Desk head under US President Donald Trump to brief him of the lack of interest shown about implementing conditions laid down in the US resolution by the GoSL.