The EU is based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights and it strives to respect the highest standards. The EU not only has a principled incentive to uphold human rights through its policies, but it also has a legal obligation to do so. Therefore, as we mark Human Rights Day, it is useful to look at the GSP Plus trade concession as an incentive for developing countries to effectively implement the core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance.
Globally, human rights violations are pervasive. On 10 December, 1948, the international community agreed to protect the inalienable rights of human beings as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The EU is committed to upholding these same rights, adopting its landmark Strategic Framework and corresponding Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy as the roadmap to mainstream human rights into all areas of its bilateral cooperation. We have formal dialogues with over 40 countries around the world, in which we advocate respect for human rights.
We also engage with regional and multilateral organisations, including the UN. Sri Lanka today already benefits from the GSP reduced tariff preferences and under GSP Plus these tariffs would be reduced to zero. Any successful application for GSP Plus requires compliance with 27 International Conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sri Lanka has signed and ratified all these conventions, and their effective implementation would also dovetail with the government’s political projects of reconciliation and good governance.
Compliance with conventions
Compliance with these Conventions is about concrete situations on the ground, and not only about sincere commitments from the government. When police react violently to student protestors it raises questions, including to what degree is a culture of violence embedded within the police and other branches of the security services? I know that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has censured the police and I am interested to see the follow up on the part of the authorities.
When the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances met families of those who have disappeared, the WG reported that some of these people were subsequently questioned in relation to their visit. If this is true, why is this still happening? The conversation on GSP Plus is not only about securing an important trade concession: it is also about advancing governance and human rights protection. In the years since the war’s end, there have been significant improvements in peoples’ lives and Sri Lanka has made impressive gains, particularly in economic and infrastructural development. The EU, together with its Member States, has supported Sri Lanka’s post-war recovery by funding projects throughout the island, and is ready and willing to continue to do so. But sustainable development must go hand-in-hand with the protection and promotion of human rights.
Last month, the 28 EU Foreign Ministers issued a very important statement on Sri Lanka, welcoming the progress achieved and encouraging Sri Lanka to undertake all remaining preparatory work for a renewed GSP Plus application. When people ask me if Sri Lanka can rise to this challenge, my answer is straightforward: Sri Lanka can certainly do it, but only if it wants to, and only if it makes the necessary and sustained effort.
In the words of the very highly respected Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, “the cake was baked at home.” In other words, GSP Plus can only be earned by the progress made here in Sri Lanka. This is in your hands as citizens. Lobby your government by asking the tough questions about how well Sri Lanka is upholding democratic values and protecting the rights of all its citizens.
(David Daly is the Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka)