Sri Lanka rejects claims PTA used for arbitrary arrests

The Sri Lankan Government today rejected claims that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslim or other minority groups in Sri Lanka.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena today briefed the Chargé d’Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union in Colombo Thorsten Bargfrede, as well Colombo-based EU Ambassadors / Chargé d’Affaires from France, Italy, Romania, Germany and the Netherlands, on the Sri Lanka Government’s position on the resolution on Sri Lanka in the European Parliament.

The Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda, State Minister for Regional Cooperation Tharaka Balasuriya, and Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage also participated in the meeting.

The Foreign Ministry said it regrets the adoption of the resolution on Sri Lanka in the European Parliament on 10 June 2021.

The Foreign Ministry said the resolution entitled “The Situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act”, contains factual inaccuracies, and does not take cognizance of the multifaceted progress made by Sri Lanka in reconciliation and development.

At the outset, the Ministry wishes to state that provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been invoked to address heinous acts of terrorism committed on its people. In this context. It is recalled that the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks of 2019 resulted in significant loss of life, including of several EU nationals.

“It is important to underscore that the Government of Sri Lanka maintains a regular, vibrant and cordial dialogue with the European Union (EU), covering all aspects of bilateral relations. The engagement is sustained through the close and cordial dialogue maintained with the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament by the Sri Lanka Mission in Brussels; and with the EU delegation and EU Ambassadors in Colombo by senior interlocutors of Government,” the Foreign Ministry said.

As part of this process, Sri Lanka said it has constructive engagement with the European Commission on the review of its EU GSP + compliance with the 27 core International Conventions. Towards this end, the Third Cycle of Review of the EU GSP + Monitoring Process for 2020-2021 is ongoing.

Sri Lanka apprised the EU on progress with regard to its wide range of cooperation at the annual EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission, the 23rd session of which was convened in January 2021. Further updates are provided through the relevant Working Groups and Committees functioning under the purview of the Joint Commission.

With regard to salient points referred to in the resolution, the Foreign Ministry observed that the Government has, in accordance with its constitutional mandate and international obligations, taken steps to protect the rights of all its citizens.

It also said that specific provision in terms of Article 12 (1) of Sri Lanka’s Constitution ensures that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. Article 12 (2) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.

The Foreign Ministry said that the Government is in the process of revisiting provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in keeping with its commitments, as has been communicated to the EU.

Towards this endeavour, the Government is studying existing legislation to propose necessary amendments, and will also draw on international best practices adopted by other jurisdictions. The Government rejected the claim that the PTA has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslim or other minority groups in Sri Lanka.

“It is observed that the 20th Amendment was enacted in full compliance with the procedure set out in the Constitution with a two thirds majority of the Members of Parliament voting in its favour. With regard to such legislation, a number of in-built safeguards relating to transparency and judicial review aimed at preventing the passage of bills that are inconsistent with the Constitution, including its Fundamental Rights chapter, have been adhered to,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The Sri Lankan Government said that it has regularly updated the Human Rights Council as well as EU interlocutors on the measures undertaken to address issues of accountability, and to achieve continued progress in reconciliation.

“Mechanisms in place in this regard include the Presidential Commission of Inquiry headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court; the Office of Missing Persons; the Office of Reparations, the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation; the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; and related institutional reforms aimed at non-recurrence and other confidence building measures. With regard to sustainable development, the Inter-Ministerial Committee headed by the Prime Minister to steer SDG implementation is of significance,” the Foreign Ministry added.

The Foreign Ministry further noted that Sri Lanka’s labour rights, including health and safety conditions, are in compliance with ILO standards. Sri Lanka’s high labour standards maintained in production, have led to better quality products, and high value added exports, as reflected in the apparel sector.

“The higher demand for ‘ethical’ products from Sri Lanka has led to increased production, subsequent investment, and improvement of the human capital in Sri Lanka. The EU GSP + concessions have contributed significantly towards this process, thus benefiting the Sri Lankan economy, as well as the EU market. Similarly, the fishery sector is a notable growth sector which has benefited from EU GSP + concessions,” the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry added.

Sri Lanka says its commitment to upholding human rights continues in tandem with its current priorities of inoculating its targeted population, providing healthcare and economic revival.

The Foreign Ministry said that in these critical times, Sri Lanka should be supported in safeguarding the rights of its people, while taking cognizance of demonstrated progress on the ground.

Sri Lanka says it looks forward to continuing its partnership with the EU on a broad range of issues, and reassures the EU of its continued commitment to engage proactively and productively on areas of mutual interest. (Colombo Gazette)