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Colombo fails to meet obligations linked to GSP+ Scheme

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Sri Lanka’s rights abuses flout EU trade benefits requirements

By Claudio Francavilla
(from Human Rights Watch website)

Sri Lanka’s economy has contracted every year since 2019, but exports to the European Union have increased, providing vital income in desperate economic times. This has largely been due to the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which grants Sri Lanka tariff-free access to the EU market so long as it complies with core human rights and labor rights treaties.

But, as the EU noted in a new report, the Sri Lankan government is falling well short of the mark.

The report identifies two bright spots for human rights in Sri Lanka: the “resilience” of civil society; and the 2022 Aragalaya (“struggle” in Sinhala) movement in which thousands protested for good governance “in the spirit of democracy and freedom of expression and assembly.”

Yet the report makes clear that civil society’s “resilience” is necessary in the face of government “harassment and intimidation.” Since President Ranil Wickremesinghe took office in July 2022, the government has adopted a “repressive response” to protests, arresting the movement’s leaders and employing “disproportionate use of force.”

This challenges the EU’s policy to assist Sri Lanka’s recovery from its economic, governance and human rights crises. As the report states, “The process of reform will be more sustainable and robust if Sri Lankan civil society is part of it and if the approach is truly inclusive.”

Notably, the government has yet to repeal the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act – a key commitment to the EU – and even broke a moratorium on its use. As the International Monetary Fund noted in September, civil society’s “oversight and monitoring” of government actions is “restricted … by broad application of counter-terrorism rules.”

Instead, the government has proposed new counterterrorism legislation that does not meet rights standards, and an Online Safety Bill that the EU says “could lead to censorship.” Other rights concerns the EU highlighted include the “treatment of minorities … hate crimes … allegations of torture … decriminalising same sex relations … domestic violence and child abuse … [and] harassment and threats against human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.”

These and other developments are incompatible with the GSP+ human rights requirements, and yet Sri Lanka’s government continues to benefit from the program. For conditionality to be credible, the GSP regulation needs to be reformed to require clear, public, and timebound benchmarks for compliance. This is what EU lawmakers should focus on: making GSP more effective in fostering human rights progress in beneficiary countries.



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Opposition threatens to move no-faith motion against Speaker over OSB

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Speaker Abeywardena

By Saman Indrajith

Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premnadasa told Parliament yesterday that the Online Safety Bill had been passed in violation of the law and unless remedial action was taken, a no-faith motion would be brought against Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Premadasa said that Article 123(4) of the Constitution says, “Where any Bill, or the provision of any Bill, has been determined, or is deemed to have been determined, to be inconsistent with the Constitution, such Bill or such provision shall not be passed except in the manner stated in the determination of the Supreme Court.”

Premadasa said: “It is illegal to pass a Bill without adhering to this constitutional provision. There were nine instances where the government overlooked the Supreme Court determination on the Bill. The Speaker allowed that to happen despite our protests. The Justice Minister, too, has admitted that there are flaws in the Act. How could that happen? Rectify them immediately, or we will bring a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.”

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that even if the Supreme Court determined that a section or clause of a draft Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution, a Bill could be passed by Parliament. It could be done with either a two-thirds majority or two-thirds majority plus people’s approval from a referendum. A case cannot be filed against the way the Speaker or an MP behaved in this House as they have immunity. Former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, too, has given a ruling on this issue and we still consider it as a precedent to be upheld. With regard to the Online Safety Bill, the Attorney General has instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to incorporate some amendments as per the Supreme Court determination and to bring other recommended amendments in the form of a separate Amendment Bill. I was not a party to that discussion. This Amendment Bill was presented to the Cabinet and approval was granted and now is at the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Thereafter, it would be referred to the Cabinet again and with that approval we can have it here in this House for consideration,” the Minister said.

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Teheran expects enhancement of bilateral ties in all fields

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Following Iranian FM’s visit

The Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, during high level meetings in Colombo this week, expressed hope that with this trip, the bilateral ties in all fields, including political, economic, commercial, and tourism, would be expanded.

Amirabdollahian was here at the official invitation of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC. During his meeting with Sabry, Amirabdollahian referred to the good and friendly relations between the two countries and the continuous consultations between them on bilateral, regional, and international issues.

The Iranian also considered scientific and technological issues as areas to which the two countries pay attention for cooperation.

Amirabdollahian appreciated the invitation of the President of Sri Lanka to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, to visit this country and stated: “We hope that this trip will be on the agenda at the right time.”

He also appreciated Sri Lanka’s positions in supporting the people of Palestine and Gaza in international forums, including the United Nations.

In this meeting, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry also warmly welcomed his Iranian counterpart and described his trip to Tehran last summer as memorable, stating: “During my trip to Iran, I witnessed the high morale of the Iranian people in the social arena. I observed production and life.”

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister emphasized: “The two countries have good relations with common areas and shared values.”

Referring to Sri Lanka’s transition from previous economic conditions and economic growth and prosperity in this country, Ali Sabry expressed hope that the relations between the two countries would expand even more in the new era.

Referring to the industrial and economic capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka emphasized the readiness of his country to host Iranians to implement economic projects in Sri Lanka.

The issue of developing cooperation between the two countries in the field of tourism was one of the other topics discussed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, and the parties expressed hope that Iranian and Sri Lankan tourists would mutually choose the two countries more and more as tourist destinations.

In this regard, the parties emphasized the necessity of establishing direct flights between Iran and Sri Lanka, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

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Only 50,000 out of 7 mn buildings have rooftop solar systems

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Great potential to increase solar power generation

by Rathindr5a Kuruwita

Rooftop solar power generation in Sri Lanka has exceeded 750 megawatts by the middle of February 2024, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) media spokesman Noel Priyantha said on Wednesday.

Priyantha added that Sri Lanka has great potential in solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

Sri Lanka has around seven million buildings, but only 50,000 of them have installed rooftop solar systems, and there is a great potential to increase rooftop solar power generation exponentially, he said.

The CEB now buys a unit of electricity from rooftop solar power producers for 37 rupees, and these producers can recover their initial costs in five years, Priyantha said.

The CEB is also talking to state-owned banks to introduce a concessional bank loan for those interested in installing rooftop solar power units, he said.

The Sri Lankan government has set a goal of achieving 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

The total installed capacity of the national power grid is over 5,000 megawatts, and the daily energy consumption in February 2024 is about 46 gigawatts per day, Priyantha said .

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