Sri Lanka Economy at Risk of Losing EU concessions

The current state of law in Sri Lanka means that the people could lose European Union trade incentives, granted under the Generalised System of Preferences, said The National Peace Council (NPC) of Sri Lanka in a Press Release.

The NPC has called upon the Government of Sri Lanka for the implementation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which would provide for the greater protection of human rights within the country while also retaining valuable economic concessions from the EU.

Full Text of the Press Release-National Peace Council of Sri Lanka:

Failure to Meet International Human Rights Standards Can Jeopardise Economy

In recent months, Sri Lanka has been at the centre of controversy regarding International Human Rights conditions. While the government has attempted to downplay the importance of human rights principles, there could be adverse international consequences to the country from such a policy. In particular, one of the negative fallouts could be the loss of significant concessions from the European Union due to Sri Lanka’s non-implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The National Peace Council calls for the implementation of this international agreement which would provide for the greater protection of human rights within the country while also retaining valuable economic concessions from the EU.

The current state of law in Sri Lanka means that the people could lose European Union trade incentives, granted under the Generalised System of Preferences. Sri Lanka is one of 15 beneficiary countries committed to good governance, sustainable development, and implementing the ICCPR, the foremost of international human rights conventions listed under the European Commission regulation (EC 980/2005). Through these incentives, Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant tariff reductions most notably in the very important textile industry. The EU was Sri Lanka’s largest trading-partner in 2006, when it received nearly a third of all Sri Lankan exports and was second only to India in goods imported to the island.

The Supreme Court has ruled that rights under the Covenant need enabling legislation by Parliament to make them applicable within Sri Lanka. It pointed out in the case of Singarasa v. Attorney General in September 2007 that the government’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which enables citizens of signatory countries to address their concerns before the Human Rights Committee, was inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and has no legal effect within the country. The Court also stated that in the absence of domestic legislation the ICCPR does not grant Sri Lankan citizens any additional rights.

Currently, the Sri Lankan government is trying to re-insert human rights protections into domestic law in order to continue enjoying these trade benefits. However, it appears likely that the ICCPR Bill, which was passed by the Sri Lankan Parliament on 9 October, will not go far enough in terms of its protection of human rights. As the Centre for Policy Analysis reports, the bill noticeably excludes or diminishes the following ICCPR rights: life, self-determination, freedom from forced or compulsory labour, security and liberty of persons deprived of liberty, free consent to medical/scientific experimentation, exit the country, minority rights, and privacy.

Unfortunately, therefore, even with the bill’s passing, the Government of Sri Lanka may not be effectively implementing the provisions of the conventions as required by the EC regulation and thus continues to ignore human rights of its citizens, as well as endanger its economy. The people of Sri Lanka cannot afford to have their costs of living which are already markedly high to increase further as a result. Not enforcing the ICCPR severely jeopardizes the lives and livelihood of everyone in Sri Lanka. The National Peace Council therefore urges the government to fully implement the treaty by incorporating the omitted rights into Sri Lankan law.

According to the Sri Lankan government in 2005, EU tax was removed from about 200 items approximately 90% of the exports to EU countries from Sri Lanka, making “Sri Lankan textiles and garments 12.5% cheaper, and other goods 15% cheaper…Around 13% of Sri Lankan exports are destined for the UK, which in turn supplies a significant proportion of the materials used by Sri Lankan manufactures that are subsequently exported as finished goods.” Losing these tariff reductions would significantly hurt Sri Lankan exporters, leading to greater unemployment, as well as significantly increase prices of imported goods, and increase and already ballooning cost of living. In short, it would have devastating effects for the entire economy.

Executive Director
On behalf of Governing Council

References

1.International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

2.European Commission Regulation EC 980/2005:
http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2005/june/tradoc_123910.pdf

3.European Union/Sri Lanka Trade Statistics for 2006:
http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2006/september/tradoc_113449.pdf

4.ICCPR Bill passed by Sri Lankan Parliament (9 October 2007):
http://www.documents.gov.lk/Bills/2007/Civil%20Political/CivilE.pdf

5.Center for Policy Alternatives Position Paper:
http://www.cpalanka.org/Statements/CPA_PR_on_ICCPR.pdf

6.Ministry of Foreign Affairs Economic & Market Bulletin (18 August 2005):
http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/features/2005/20050818economic_market_bulletin.htm

7.Singarasa v. Attorney General (15 September 2006):
http://www.srilankahr.net/pdf/sc_judgement1.pdf

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