Canadian Press | 20 June 2010
Sri Lanka rejects EU’s rights conditions for trade benefits, saying they violate sovereignty
By Bharatha Mallawarachi (CP) – 2 days ago
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has rejected the European Union’s conditions — including human rights improvements — for renewing special trade benefits, saying Thursday they would violate the island nation’s sovereignty.
External Affairs Minister Gamini Peiris said the government would not agree to the 15 conditions, which he said would involve "fundamental changes" to the constitution and "drastic changes" to legislative framework. He said such actions would infringe on country’s sovereignty and could weaken national security.
Peiris told reporters on Thursday that"no self respecting government anywhere in the world would agree to undertake to fulfil these conditions."
Sri Lanka’s trade benefits with the world’s biggest consumer market are due to expire Aug. 15. The EU had asked Sri Lanka to give a written commitment by July 1 pledging to improve human rights before it would consider renewing them.
Sri Lanka exports about 1.24 billion euros ($1.7 billion) worth of goods to Europe per year.
The value of GSP-plus trade preferences is around 122 million euros ($150 million), according to Peiris.
An EU report last year said Sri Lanka is breaching United Nations commitments to respect civil and political rights and violating a convention against torture and a charter on children’s rights.
Sri Lanka is also facing international criticism for alleged abuses that occurred during the last phase of the civil war that ended in May 2009, when government forces crushed the rebels who had fought for a separate state in the north for ethnic minority Tamils.
The U.N. says more than 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the conflict.
On Tuesday, the U.N. appointed a three-member panel to look into the alleged war abuses. Sri Lanka strongly opposed the panel, calling it "an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation."
Peiris said Thursday that the members of the U.N. panel will not be allowed to visit Sri Lanka."We will not allow because we don’t think there is any need for it."
The government has set up its own commission to investigate allegations of abuses.
The panel appointed by the U.N. chief on Tuesday is headed by former Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, also the U.N.’s special rights investigator for North Korea. It aims to complete its work within four months and make recommendations to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon .