Motion to deny Sri Lanka GSP plus defeated by EU Parliament

The motion to deny Sri Lanka the GSP plus trade concession was defeated by the EU Parliament today.

Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva said that Sri Lanka won the vote in Brussels with 436 members voting against the motion, 119 in favor and 22 abstentions.

The Government held urgent talks with several EU Members of Parliament (MEP) ahead of the vote at the EU Parliament on the resolution not to grant Sri Lanka the GSP plus trade concession.

Dr. Harsha de Silva said that he met several Members of the European Parliament on issues related to the Sri Lanka GSP+ vote.

An EU fact finding delegation had recently raised concerns over labour rights in Sri Lanka ahead of a decision being taken on Sri Lanka’s application for GSP plus.

The Fact Finding Mission, which included Members of the European Parliament Anne-Marie Mineur and Lola Sánchez Caldentey, visited Sri Lanka to assess the country’s progress on human and labour rights.

Anne-Marie Mineur said that it is the Government´s obligation to effectively guarantee the fundamental rights of workers and their trade unions.

“Collective bargaining and the right to strike should be an integral part of this,” she said, according to the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

Lola Sánchez Caldentey said that the European Union will not grant a special trade status to Sri Lanka if the money coming from this advantage remains only in the pockets of a few businessmen.

The European Union will decide next month if Sri Lanka is duly entitled, or not, to be granted GSP plus. This status is a component of the EU policy for developing countries which offers trade incentives to those which implement core international conventions on human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance. (Colombo Gazette)


  1. Considering the fundamental human rights and, in EU’s negotiations with Sri Lanka regarding the GSP +. Human rights must apply to everyone living legally in Sri Lanka and not only those with Sinhalese nationality. But this applies Sri Lanka their own aparthaid policy. The EU must demand fundamental rights for foriegen spoues otherwise nothing GSP +.
    The following article is about how Sri Lanka deprive foreign spouses of Sri Lankans their human rights. Can attest to what is said in this article is absolutely true. I myself am one among many foreign spouses who is affected by this policy of apartheid in Sri Lanka.
    Why do we deprive foreign spouses of Sri Lankans their human rights?
    By R. M. B. Senanayake
    One of the many unsatisfactory features of our Constitution is that it provides for human rights only for citizens and not for others resident in Sri Lanka on a temporary basis like the foreigners married to local spouses. This is a violation of the international conventions on human rights which our governments have signed over the years like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1946, the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (1966) the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (1965), the Conventions against torture (1984) against gender discrimination (1984) etc. All these Conventions do not restrict themselves to citizens of the State Parties but are to apply to all persons. But our Constitution grants human rights only to citizens and not to those who are temporarily resident here. The abortive draft constitution which the Government produced also ignored this problem.
    No Human Rights to resident foreign spouses
    Our government is treating foreigners married to local spouses as not having any human rights whatsoever. Remember the case of the scholar Jane Russell a few years ago. She was arrested for overstaying her visa although her application for extension was pending. She was treated shabbily, detained in the Detention Center and deported our Immigrants Emigrants Act is particularly discriminatory against foreign spouses and their children who are treated as if they do not have any rights by virtue of being born as human beings. The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights protects persons against arbitrary expulsion of aliens and also protects them. Our people who go abroad contrive marriages of convenience or who have entered western countries illegally are quick to complain of racial discrimination and violation of human rights there but we here, do not wish to extend similar consideration to foreigners who have taken up residence here as spouses of local citizens.
    Arbitrary Expulsion
    The International Convention on Civil & Political Rights Article 13 provides that the expulsion of an alien lawfully within a country may only be undertaken in accordance with the law and insists that the law must provide for appeals against such expulsion unless there are pressing reasons of national security. But our immigration authorities have wide powers under the law to refuse extensions of visa, cancel them arbitrarily and deport them summarily. But the international bill of human rights recognizes that all human beings should be protected against arbitrary arrest or detention (Universal Declaration Art.9 & International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights Art.9). Remember one Rhoda Miller who was married to a Mr. Victor Silva a Leftist party member. She had been carrying out some research and the then Government decided that she was engaged in subversive activities, arrested her and deported her without giving her any time even to pack her bags. There was an outcry in Parliament but nobody could do anything because of the draconian law.
    Right of parents to transmit nationality
    Most countries give citizenship rights to foreigners who marry local citizens even though some marriages are contracted merely to obtain such citizenship and Sri Lankans abroad have not been averse to indulge in such practice. Our Citizenship Act violates provisions of the Universal Declaration requirements about the right to nationality in Art 15. Foreign male spouses marrying Sri Lankans are not given citizenship but only temporary residence visas entirely at the discretion of the Immigration authorities only men can transmit citizenship to children and not women. This is clear gender discrimination. It is said that the Law Commission had recommended that the relevant sections of the Citizenship Act be amended to allow women also to transmit the right of citizenship to children. The Women’s Charter put out by the present Government, affirms gender equality but no amendment of the Citizenship Act has taken place although the Law Commission made its recommendation several years ago. What is the point of publishing a Women’s.
    Charter, which doesn’t extend gender equality to a group of women who have married foreigners? Like most actions of this Government these documents are eyewash to mislead foreigners who monitor human rights. The governments of those countries, whose nationals have sometimes dishonestly married Sri Lankans abroad to enable them to acquire citizenship, are fully aware of such practices like marriages of convenience by our nationals in their countries, but have been tolerant because they do not want to cause hardship to those who genuinely marry their citizens. They tolerate such abuse out of respect for the human rights of all persons. But our Immigration authorities can see only the abuse, the dark side but not the genuine marriages. In most countries people act on the basis of trust, at least those countries that wish to consider themselves as civilized. When faced with a stranger one could adopt one of two attitudes. One could consider him, as a decent human being who is prima faci to be believed or one can assume he is a crook, not trustworthy and doubt every word he says and ask him to furnish proof of every statement made by him. It is the latter attitude of mind that prevails in the approach of our public officials to every one who is in some way or other not known to them or related to them. It is even prevalent in their attitudes to our own citizens in civil society as a whole. This is the main reason for our lack of co-operation and according to Fukuyama the degree of trust in a society is an important factor for economic development and explains in some ways the failure of development in low trust societies. He points out that such a low trust society increases the costs of production since transactions require legalized agreements to back them.
    Rationale for the Discrimination no longer relevant
    The rigor and bias in our immigration laws are due to the problem of the estate Indians who were brought down to work in the tea plantations. The country was faced with an enormous social & political problem because the Indian government refused to accept them as Indians after Independence. So we introduced rather rigorous laws to deal with this problem. But the problem of the “stateless” has more or less been resolved by our having to grant them citizenship since there was no way they could be repatriated without their consent and the co-operation of the Indian government. There was the danger that the country would have to permit a lot of immigrants from India who might come in as spouses of estate workers since they were in the habit of travelling to and fro from India. But these discriminatory laws still remain and those who suffer now are largely Sinhalese men & women who marry foreigners mostly from the west of course discriminatory laws, discriminating against any persons whatever their country of origin would be a violation of human rights of such persons and all persons are equal. Such discrimination against their nationals married to Sri Lankans give the impression to Europeans that the Sinhalese are racists. And lend credence to the exaggerations put out by the Tamil lobby before the UN Committee on Human Rights which meets once a year in Geneva. Foreigners say that there is discrimination against them which smacks of racialism which is a criminal offence in Western countries. They equate our attitudes as proof that the Sinhalese are racist, which simply means discrimination on grounds of race.
    Discriminatory Visa Regulations
    The present position is that males married to local citizens have to apply annually for extension of residence visas and have to furnish all manner of documents including police reports. The Controller of Immigration is vested with the absolute power to decide and there is not even a right of appeal against his decision, a violation of human rights again. There are allegations that there is hanky panky going on in the circles of government as in the case of Jane Russell or Rhoda Miller. When government officials are questioned before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva they solemnly affirm that there is no discrimination and that undue influences are not being brought to play by interested parties who are hostile to the particular foreigner. But it is the wide powers given to the Immigration Controller that lends itself to such allegations. A document marked secret issued by the government, which was tabled before the Supreme Court in one case carries the following clause for example:
    1. Spouses of Sri Lankans & their dependent children are normally given Residence Visas upon application provided evidence is available that the Sri Lankan spouse has enough financial means to maintain the dependents. Residence Visas issued on spouse criteria will lapse if the marriage is invalidated by a court of law. Sri Lanka, the document says follows the patriarchal system: hence Residence Visas are normally granted only to female spouses of Sri Lankans
    2. Male spouses are considered for grant of residence visas subject to certain conditions and it refers to another document called the Guidelines. Appendix vii.
    The latter is an appalling document. It starts off by saying that the only criteria for grant of residence visas to spouses is family re-union. It states that “a formal letter from the Sri Lankan spouse that the holder has deserted him/her is sufficient proof to invalidate the visa already granted. What a draconian rule? The foreign spouse is required to produce a latter of consent from the Sri Lankan spouse for the grant of a residence visa. This puts the foreign spouse entirely at the mercy of the Sri Lankan spouse and does not recognize the human rights of the foreign spouse. What happens if the Sri Lankan spouse deserts the foreign spouse or divorces him/her and the latter is the innocent party? What happens to the rights of the children? What if the foreign male spouse dies or divorces and the woman & children are resident in Sri Lanka? The children have no right to remain in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan woman should surely be able to transmit citizenship to her children since they can’t be expected to go to the father’s country in such circumstances. The Law Commission is supposed to have recommended provision for the grant of such citizenship by amending the law. But the government has chosen to ignore the recommendation. Europe and most countries abiding by human rights obligations treat both genders equally, if the local wife is dead or has divorced the foreign spouse resident here should be entitled to have his/her residence visa extended if the person is not convicted for any criminal offence. This is the civilized thing to do and all civilized countries including countries like Thailand follow the practice.
    Right to Asylum for politically persecuted
    There is the case of Peter Van Spall who has been married to a Sri Lankan woman for 14 years and is resident here who has had his residence visa cancelled because he divorced his wife for good and valid reason. He has been asked to quit the country. Mr. Peter says he was an activist for the Federation of Anti-Fascist Association of those Persecuted by the Nazis and an academic. International human rights law in the Universal Declaration Art. 14 recognize the right to asylum for those facing persecution, a right that the Tamils are exploiting in European countries .Shouldn’t genuine cases who persecution not be treated sympathetically?
    Right to Found a family
    Foreigners married to Sri Lankans live here on sufferance and the regulations state this clearly. There was a businessman born and bred here who could not qualify for citizenship as his father was a Pakistani who had come over as a trader during British times and had died here. He married a Sri Lankan who dared to contest an election and this foreigner was promptly deported. No time was given for him even to pack his bags a violation of his human rights. Every person is considered as having a right to marry and found a family as provided in the Universal Declaration Art. 16, International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights Art. 10, International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights Art.23. This human right is violated by our government. Our government did also on that occasion violate the right to political participation of the Sri Lankan woman as provided in Art. 2l of the Universal Declaration and Art. 25 of the International Convention on Civil & Political Rights. There is blatant gender discrimination and even trampling of the rights of children of such marriages. In every other civilized country the child acquires citizenship by birth and when reaching majority can opt for a passport from the country of his birth. But it is not so in Sri Lanka. Here the child must pack up his bags and go, never mind if he or she has lived all his life up to then in the country with his parents.
    Right to be recognized as a person before the law is denied
    The foreigner also has no legal standing however much his human rights are violated. His position as one such foreigner described is worse than that of an animal although recognition as a person before the law is provided for every person in the Universal Declaration Art. 16 & in the International Covenant Art. 16 as a human rights. Our courts have gone along with the denial of fundamental human rights to foreigners because their human rights are not recognized in our Constitution are also not given legal standing in the courts and are treated as criminals
    Right to Privacy & Freedom of Movement denied
    The Immigrants & Emigrants Act also deprives foreigners of the freedom of movement and the Minister can impose any condition restricting movement. They also deprive them of the right of privacy since government officials, the authorized officers of the Department, are empowered under the Immigrants & Emigrants Act to search any letters, written messages, memoranda or any written or printed matter including photographs etc. and the police too have this right to examine their private correspondence. This is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights which provides that persons lawfully within a country must have freedom of movement and restrictions on such movement is only permanent for the purpose of national security, public order, public health or public morality by. Art. 13 of the Universal Declaration & Art. 12 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provide for the right of the child to be unified with his parents. The child and his parents should be permitted to enter and leave the country together as provided in Art.9 & 10 of the Convention.
    When will we conform to Human Rights Law
    The Sri Lanka government depends on foreign aid for its very survival and it should not treat foreigners shabbily as the Immigration laws & regulations provide for. Human rights are now recognized and actively enforced by the European Union. Is it surprising that the West does not believe our protestations of innocence and denials of discrimination against Tamils when the local embassies of these countries see how badly their citizens married to Sri Lankans are treated? Authorities International Agreements ban discrimination against foreigners even in economic services and treatment of foreign capital under the newer WTO and connected protocol. We are desperately in need of foreign direct investment. We should not have to deprive foreigners married to Sri Lankan of their human rights as we do now. The success of the anti-apartheid campaign against white dominated South Africa showed how vulnerable a country is to economic sanctions imposed against human rights abuses. We are practising our own form of apartheid against foreign spouses of Sri Lankans. Myanmar is facing economic sanctions for human rights abuses. Firms like Levi Strauss, Macy’s, Liz Clairbourne, Pepsico have pulled out of Myanmar (former Burma) after being lambasted by Humans Rights groups for doing business with a repressive regime. Human Rights can no longer be ignored in the modern world.

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