EU Monitoring Mission Reviews SL Human Rights Record as GSP-plus Hangs in Balance

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 2 2021
Ceylon Politics EU Monitoring Mission Reviews SL Human Rights Record as GSP-plus Hangs in Balance
By Gagani Weerakoon

Sri Lankan rapper and vocalist Yohani, who recently became a massive sensation in India, was getting ready to entertain her fans in New Delhi when India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) signed the BuildOperate-Transfer (BOT) agreement for West Container Terminal (WCT) of the Colombo Port, joining the local partners John Keells Holdings (JKH) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) on Thursday (30) morning. At a virtual ceremony the USD 700 million investment project was signed. 

The WCT will be developed on a BOT basis for a period of 35 years as a public-private partnership starting from December 2021. Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Milinda Moragoda was also seen watching the agreement being signed between the two private companies online.

 According to the agreement, the joint venture between Adani Group and JKH will develop the terminal to hold 3.5million TEU capacity. The Adani Ports will hold 51 per cent of the terminal partnership with its local agent JKH and the SLPA sharing the remaining 49 per cent. It is Adani’s second-biggest international project after Myanmar. 

The WCT’s quay length of 1,400 metres and an alongside depth of 20 metres make WCT a prime destination for trans-shipment cargo and can handle Ultra Large Container Carriers, Adani Group said in its official statement. In March, Adani Group received a Letter of Intent (LOI) from the Ministry of Ports and Shipping of Sri Lanka and the SLPA, acting on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, pursuant to approval from the Sri Lankan Cabinet for the development and operations of WCT in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

 The WCT was awarded to Adani Group after a Government to Government agreement between India and Sri Lanka to develop Colombo Port’s strategically located East Container Terminal (ECT) collapsed due to series of protests staged by the SLPA trade unions and nationalist groups last year. Following that, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa suggested the WCT be awarded to Adani without involving the Governments and to be maintained purely as a private sector partnership. 

The SLPA said the BOT agreement worth more than USD 700 million is the largest foreign investment ever in the port sector of Sri Lanka. SLPA’s Chairman Capt. Nihal Keppetipola and Managing Director Upul Jayatissa signed the agreement on behalf of SLPA. On behalf of the Adani Ports and SEZ its President Capt. Sandeep Mehta and on behalf of the local partner JKH its Chairman Krishan Balendra signed the agreement.

 The agreement was signed with the participation of the Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardena, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay, the Secretary to the Ministry of Ports and Shipping U.D.C. Jayalal and the Vice Chairman of SLPA Dr. Prasantha Jayamanna. The President of Adani Ports and SEZ Limited (APSEZ) - Capt. Sandeep Mehta, its Chief Executive Officer Karan Adani joined the occasion from India online. 

EU monitoring mission 

The GSP+ monitoring team from the European Union (EU) arrived in Colombo during the weekend to review the implementation of the 27 international conventions applicable for the special incentive arrangement. Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris met the visiting fivemember European Union (EU) delegation on Friday (1) and held discussions on the progress in reconciliation, review of Prevention of Terrorism Act, engagement with civil society, SDG 16 initiative, and Sri Lanka’s cooperation in the Human Rights Council. 

During the visit, the EU delegation participated in meetings related to the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission process and the EU GSP-plus Third Cycle of Review process (2020/2021). The meetings were attended by a broad range of stakeholders from Government comprising over 30 line agencies.

 The EU mission to Sri Lanka was led by Senior Adviser, Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission Nikolaos Zaimis, and Head of Division for South Asia of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Ioannis Giogkarakis-Argyropoulos. 

The Foreign Minister observed that Sri Lanka’s relations with the EU are wide ranging and mutually beneficial, including in the spheres of economic and development cooperation. The EU being Sri Lanka’s second largest export destination (in 2020), the Foreign Minister highlighted the positive contribution of EU GSP-plus benefits in upgrading the livelihoods of communities in the country. 

The EU delegation also met Opposition Leader and other minority parties including the TNA and SLMC. A special meeting between the Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and the European Union (EU) delegation to Sri Lanka was held at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, on Tuesday (28). During the meeting, Premadasa emphasised that the GSP+ concession is a great strength to the country and that necessary support should be provided to extend the benefit to Sri Lanka. 

He also thanked the EU for its financial assistance to Sri Lanka, GSP+ and other international relief. The two sides had a lengthy discussion on COVID-19 pandemic and current issues, and the Leader of the Opposition urged the delegation to provide necessary support to move Sri Lanka forward. “The Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s (SJB) foreign policy is nonaligned and believes that Sri Lanka is a land of peace, not a land of power struggles for super powers. We would continue to stand up for the role of a responsible modern Opposition at this hour. 

SJB is a futuristic political party based on the green concept, is formulating economic as well as social plans and policies,” Premadasa said and added that his camp represents an Opposition that does not engage in opportunistic politics in the face of the country’s current situation. He also said that he is unconditionally fulfilling his responsibilities as a people’s Opposition and that is committed to safeguarding human rights, intervening for democracy, fighting for Media freedom and upholding the rule of law.

 I will continue to extend cooperation to all peoplefriendly and constructive activities, added Premadasa. The EU delegation focused on protection of human rights, expansion of democratic space for people, devolution and balancing of power between the Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive etc. and the Leader of the Opposition pointed out the importance of drawing attention of the Government towards positive achievement of the above said factors. Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, Treasurer of SJB Dr. Harsha de Silva, Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition Ravi Jayawardena and several others were present during this meeting. 

Before meeting the Opposition Leader they also called on SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem. Hakeem, expressed displeasure over the human rights abuses in the country in recent times. He said the EU delegation visited him, wanting to hear his views on the current situation in the country. The SLMC Leader said, “We have underlined a number of issues connected to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) as a political tool to hunt down on the minorities and those who oppose the Government’s actions. It is used explicitly to retaliate against minorities.

 In particular, we spoke about the human rights lawyer and activist Hejaz Hizbullah. “This particular issue was raised by the EU Parliament in their resolution adopted in June this year. The MP said it was a deliberate attempt to detain the lawyer, as a suspect but there were no charges. “There are no other lawyers detained under the draconian PTA.” The MP has urged the EU delegation to seek Government support to grant bail for the lawyer soon and the legal case could continue as scheduled. 

He has also pointed out to the EU delegation that many young people, the elderly and even women have been detained for no apparent reason but as alleged ‘suspects’ involved in terrorism. “We have pointed out the need for urgent action to be taken to release them as no charges have been filed against them.”

 He also highlighted the controversy over Muslim religious matters, especially the amendments to be made to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) and said it was fully resolved by the community. Nevertheless, beyond that, the Government is overstepping and intervening in the affair, he said. “We made it very clear that this Government needs to make some changes in its efforts to intervene without the need for a separate legal process for Muslims,” he added. “We have discussed this matter with the Minister of Justice. 

We have also made it very clear to the EU that these should not be allowed to become an issue in which the Government unnecessarily deprives minorities of their rights. At the same time, we have also told the EU delegation that we are keen on all the provisions for the full granting of Muslim women’s rights,” he added. The EU monitoring team last arrived in 2018 after lifting of the GSP+ ban in 2017. 

The delegation will be in Colombo from 27 September to 5 October. The team comprises Nikolaos Zaimis, Senior Adviser on Trade and Sustainable Development; Ionnis GiogkarakisArgyropoulos, Head of Division South Asia, European External Action Service (EEAS); Guido Dolara, Coordinator GSP Trade Preferences; LluisPrats – Head of Unit, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission; and Monika Bylaite, Desk Officer for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, EEAS. 

In October 2020, the EU said that the GSP+ scheme will be available for a period ahead until there is a reclassification. EU pointed out that it was important for Sri Lanka to comply with the regulations of the agreement to continue to benefit from the scheme. GSP+ is granted on the condition of Sri Lanka’s commitment to ratify and effectively implement 27 international conventions on human rights, labour conditions, protection of the environment and good governance. 

Also the EU Parliament brought a resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka, on 10 June 2021 based on its previous resolutions on the country and also regard to the report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of 9 February 2021 entitled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’. The move reminded Sri Lanka that its continued eligibility for GSP+ will take into account Regulations No. 01 of 2021 published on 12 March 2021 under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act and the report by UN Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism of 14 December 2018 titled ‘Visit to Sri Lanka’.

 Other criteria include the statement by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on 24 February 2021 and the final report of January 2020 of the EU Election Observation Mission to the Sri Lanka Presidential Election of 16 November 2019. 

The resolution also called for a rigorous, impartial and complete investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in line with international legal standards; calls, furthermore, for those against whom there is evidence of culpability to promptly be brought to trial, and for those for whom there is insufficient evidence to be released. The resolution also called Sri Lanka to implement several other recommendations. 

CID summon journalists 

Cabinet Spokesman, Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma apologised for the inconvenience caused to journalists including senior editors of two national newspapers when they were summoned to appear before the CID recently. Minister Alahapperuma, addressing the weekly Cabinet Media briefing on Tuesday (28) said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed the CID not to summon journalists who reported on the infamous garlic scam at Lanka Sathosa as it is unethical and goes against social norms. 

Apologising over the CID summoning several journalists including the Chief Editor of Lankadeepa and two senior editors at Divaina and The Island newspapers, Alahapperuma said the Government has never allowed such actions and will never approve the CID questioning journalists about ongoing investigations. The Government condemns such actions, he added. When asked if the Government is trying to stifle the Media for reporting on current issues, Alahapperuma stated that as the Media Minister, he disapproves of such methods of investigation. 

He noted that Prime Minister Rajapaksa and Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara have informed the CID not to act in such a manner regarding journalists. “Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena requested the CID to investigate a statement made by a former Sathosa board member, and they started recording statements, including from Dr. Gunawardena. 

But he never said anything about questioning the Media. However, confusion had arisen among Police and CID as a result,” he observed. The Minister added that the Public Security Minister has assured that CID officers will not question Media personnel in this manner. 

With concerns being raised on journalists being targeted instead of the real culprits, Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Retired) Sarath Weerasekara requested the IGP to conduct an investigation into the group of CID officials who had summoned journalists who had reported on the infamous garlic scam, despite being ordered not to. He said he has instructed the IGP to probe the incident. 

Weerasekara has handed over the garlic scam investigation from the Peliyagoda Special Crimes Investigations Division to the CID and had directed them to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. However, Major General (Retired) Jagath Alwis, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Security, stated the CID had never interrogated the journalists but had summoned them to clarify on what they had reported on their publications. According to Alwis, the IGP has informed him that he will also issue a Media statement apologising for the CID’s conduct. 

Earlier this week, Cabinet Spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had urged the CID not to summon journalists who reported on the infamous garlic scam at Lanka Sathosa because it is unethical and goes against social norms. An investigation was initiated into the irresponsible and unruly conduct of a group of officials of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) who questioned Media personnel despite being instructed not to do so. The investigation was launched by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), C. D. Wickramaratne, on the instructions of Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral (Retired) Sarath Weerasekara. 

Issuing a statement, Sri Lank Police noted that summoning Media personnel in an attempt to seek assistance with an ongoing investigation was not deemed as professional conduct, and regretted the inconvenience caused. Minister Weerasekara ordered the IGP to conduct a probe into the matter, and that the investigation into the garlic scam involving Lanka Sathosa be transferred from the Peliyagoda Special Crimes Division to the CID. 

However, several journalists had been summoned by the CID, following their reports on the scam despite Prime Minister’s directives not to do so. The independence and impartiality of the CID was also questioned by various parties with them first summoning journalists following a complaint by a Minister at a time Criminal Defamation Laws were not enacted. 

Then they decided not to summon journalists following PM’s instructions. Concerns were raised about both these instances. Meanwhile, a letter of Demand (LOD) was sent on behalf of the Minister of Trade, Bandula Gunawardena to a former board member of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunewardena demanding the immediate payment of a sum of one Billion rupees for defamatory statements made against him by the latter. 

Attorney-at-Law Minolie Roshanara Alexander on behalf of the Minister of Trade, said he is promoting and defending the political policies of President and the Prime Minister and has been defending and speaking in public forums on the present political situation in the country and the future political solutions. “My client has also been speaking from his knowledge on the economic policies of this country and economic reforms needed,” she added. She said that Thushan Gunawardena has on numerous occasions in numerous ways and at numerous forums by word and innuendo defamed Bandula Gunawardena and caused loss and damage to his good name and reputation. 

“Amongst other things said by you with the malicious and tainted intent and desire to verbally attack and defame my client you have maligned my client as being part and parcel and/or involved with undue interest in a fraud relating to the import, distribution and supply of garlic amongst other things,” she added. 

While stating that the said matters are both false and defamatory per se and/or by innuendo and not in the public good and/or interests and has caused tremendous and irreparable loss and damage to Bandula Gunawardena’s name, reputation, standing in society, recognition amongst peers, amongst his electors and the public at large. “My client estimates the said damage at rupees one billion and hereby demands the payment of the said sum of rupees one billion immediately” She stated in the LOD adding that in the event of a failure to pay the said sum within 14 days, legal action will be resorted to. 

Appropriation Bill

 Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Thursday (30) decided to convene Sittings of Parliament for five days from Monday (4) to Friday (8) next week, Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake said. Also, the Appropriation Bill 2022 will be tabled in Parliament next week as well. 

The entire day Monday (4) has been set aside as a special sitting day for Questions for Oral Answers. The Secretary General further stated that the time has been set aside from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for 40 questions which were postponed to be taken up in Parliament due to various reasons.

 On Tuesday (5) Order under the Value Added Tax Act; Order under the Inland Revenue Act, an Order under the Finance Act are to be approved post-debate. The Petroleum Resources Bill (Second Reading) will be taken up for debate on Wednesday (6) while the Registration of Electors (Amendment) Bill (Second Reading), Employees’ Provident Fund (Amendment) Bill (Second Reading), an Order under the Employees Provident Fund is scheduled to be taken up for debate on Thursday (7). 

The Adjournment debate on the Mid-Year Financial Position Report for the year 2021 will be taken up for debate on Friday (8). Time has also been allotted from Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. for Questions for Oral Answers. Furthermore, time has also been allotted for Questions at the Adjournment Time from Tuesday (5) to Thursday (7) from 4:30 p.m. to 4:50 p.m. The Motion at the Adjournment Time by the Government will be on Tuesday (5) and Thursday (7) from 4:50 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. whilst the Motion at the Adjournment Time by the Opposition will be on Wednesday (6).

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 2 2021

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