Sri Lanka must stop the torture

Sri Lanka must stop the torture

After the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, 1983 to 2009, the country’s police and army targeted suspected members of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to gather information on the group.  Allegations remain of the continued targeting of suspects, with claims of abduction and arrest, imprisonment, torture and rape. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Ignazio Corrao concerned over the respect for fundamental human rights in Sri Lanka raised the issue through a parliamentary question to the High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission for Foreign Affairs. 

The arrests of suspects of the LTTE were, and continue to be,  carried out under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which contains many components that fail to respect human rights. In 2015, Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 30/1 Resolution with the UN Human Rights Council and committed to repealing its Prevention of Terrorism Act. Since then, the government has drafted the Counter-Terrorism Act (CTA), which remains inconsistent with the country’s human rights obligations.

In October 2019, Italian MEP Ignazio Corrao posed a question to the European Commission asking “as part of the European External Action Service’s (EEAS’s) ‘EU4Human Rights’ initiative, what concrete actions has the EU taken to ensure that the PTA is repealed and that the Sri Lankan Government is held accountable for the ongoing torture of detainees?” and “what monitoring is taking place with a view to improving the CTA?”

MEP Corrao additionally asked “what specific projects are being carried out by the EEAS in Sri Lanka to ensure that the Muslim community is protected from the ongoing tensions?”

In March 2020, High Representative/Vice-President Borrell formally responded to the questions on behalf of the European Commission. In his response, he cites that “the EU raises issues related to human rights with Sri Lankan authorities on a regular basis, not least in the annual meetings of the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights, which last met on 31 August 2019”. He added that “the EU Delegation in Colombo has an active dialogue with Sri Lankan authorities and is closely following the human rights situation”.

Mr Borrell declared that “the EU has raised concerns about reports of torture as reported by the High Commissioner and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and has urged the Government of Sri Lanka to take effective steps to fight and prevent torture’. He said that “the EU has also called for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and its replacement by legislation in line with international standards” and that “issues of concern has also been expressed with regard to the draft Counter-Terrorism Act”.

High Representative/Vice-President Borrell expressed that EU development cooperation is providing support for integrated development at the district level in the poorest areas of the North and East and that “thematic support is also offered in the areas of human rights, good governance and rule of law. Several projects implemented through the thematic budget lines EIHDR and CSO-LA are contributing to mitigating grievances and strengthening cross-community engagement”.

In closing, Vice President Borrell declared that “the EU/German Foreign Office funded ‘Strengthening Reconciliation Processes Programme (SRP)’ (EUR 15 million) has been extending support to reconciliation initiatives in a wide array of sectors ranging from support to looking back on the past, including strengthening counselling services and supporting memory culture work as well supporting communication efforts in traditional, new and social media spaces and encouraging civic policy discussions”.

Mr Borrell’s response does not address the increasing concerns regarding levels of torture in Sri Lanka. As a beneficiary of the European Union’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus, (GSP+), Sri Lanka is under an obligation to comply with international conventions protecting human rights, and has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Sri Lanka has not only stalled on providing accountability and reconciliation 10 years after its civil war ended but has also withdrawn from its commitments made at the UN Human Rights Council, which implies the European Commission should be seriously considering the country’s right to access GSP+ trade preferences – a discussion which could now take place following the recent presidential elections.

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