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Sri Lanka is not Burma? Really?

October 27, 2009

Financial Times  – Sri Lanka has flagrantly ignored international agreements

Edward Mortimer from the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

Sir, Your argument for extending Sri Lanka’s “GSP+” access to the European Union market is plausible but specious (“Tigers and trade”, editorial October 21). There might be a good case for extending this concession to all developing-country imports, but no one is suggesting that. As things stand, Sri Lanka is one of only 15 countries in the world to receive this treatment, and the only one in Asia. This discriminates unfairly against imports from other Asian countries.

GSP+ was accorded to Sri Lanka in 2005 on a wave of international sympathy after the tsunami. It was, as you say, conditional on ratification and implementation of 27 international agreements. The EU now has to decide whether to extend the deal, in the face of a damning independent report, commissioned by the EU itself, which shows that Sri Lanka has flagrantly ignored many of these conditions, including notably those that cover basic human rights.

Nor is it only, as you suggest, a matter of “human rights abuses committed … in the course of the conflict with the Tamil Tiger rebels”. That conflict ended five months ago, with a total victory for the government. Yet so far from being magnanimous in victory, the government has until now held more than 250,000 civilians in insanitary internment camps, currently threatened with monsoon flooding, while an unknown number of alleged combatants are held elsewhere, out of sight of the media, Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies. Wartime promises that Tamil grievances would be peacefully redressed once hostilities were ended have not been fulfilled. Instead an atmosphere of racist triumphalism has been encouraged.

“Sri Lanka is not Burma”, you write. Perhaps not, but it seems some of its leaders would like it to be. Burma was the first foreign country visited by President Mahendra Rajapaksa after his victory over the Tigers last May, and his own government website reported that one of his aims was to advise the Burmese generals on how to defeat their own ethnic insurgents, learning from Sri Lanka’s methods.

If the EU does not resist this repressive contagion, who will?

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