Recent events in Sri Lanka have once again shown the immense political instability and lack of progress made in respect of democratic and human rights. The sudden removal of the prime minister and suspension of parliament revealed the real nature of the current Sri Lankan state. It was not done to improve people’s lives. Rather, it was an undemocratic political coup to keep power in the hands of those who have been accused of war crimes and massive corruption.
The European Union claimed that it had allowed GSP+ concession following commitments by the government of Sri Lanka. These included improving human rights and workers’ rights, reforming the constitution, repealing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, and setting up an office for missing persons.
None of these conditions have been met. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his party are completely opposed to the constitutional reforms and never had any intention of repealing the PTA. And the Asian Human Rights Commission exposed what it called a “blatant attack” by Mahinda Rajapaksa on the formation of an office for missing persons: (http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-108-2016/). Maithripala Sirisena’s government also showed no serious willingness to abolish the PTA – in reality, just proposing to change the name of the act.
Nothing has improved in relation to workers’ conditions or the living standards of the vast majority of people throughout Sri Lanka. Even at the time the EU reinstated GSP+, Dutch MEP Anne-Marie Mineur, told an EU plenary session: “The human rights situation in Sri Lanka looks good on paper, but in reality there is still a long way to go. I went to Sri Lanka in April, where I heard many stories that provided evidence of the real situation there. I heard from workers who work far too long each day, who don’t receive living wages and are intimidated if they try to join a union or go on strike.” That was the reason the GUE/NGL (left/green) European parliamentary group opposed the granting of the GSP+ concession to Sri Lanka in the first place.
Now, responding to the attempted political coup by Sirisena, an important workers’ trade union, the Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers’ Union pointed out: “Contrary to president Sirisena’s claims that he took this decision ‘for the sake of the people and the country, we wish to state categorically that these moves have nothing whatsoever to do with improving the lives of the vast majority of the people of this country, including millions of workers, who have, under this president’s government, faced untold hardships and seen a steady decline in their living standards”. (http://www.tamilsolidarity.org/end-the-executive-presidency-now-cmu-statement/)
While not meeting any of the conditions the EU set out, the Sri Lankan government also failed to publish a comprehensive plan of how it would use the GSP+ to benefit people across the country. Instead, there were many reports in local media about the harsh conditions that continue to exist for workers, particularly in the textile industry in Kilinochchi in the Northern Province.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government proved that it had no intention of meeting any of the terms outlined by the EU. If Rajapaksa is ratified as prime minister, that will continue to be the case. The fact is that none of their political parties have taken any meaningful measures to improve working or living conditions, to provide good healthcare and housing to the victims of war, to end the land-grab, or to bring justice to the oppressed Tamils and other communities.
Even if new elections are called and Mahinda Rajapaksa is stopped from taking the position, his family and their cronies – accused of genocide and war crimes – will continue to hold control over much of the state in one form or other.
That is why the Tamil diaspora organisations demand that the EU suspends the GSP+ concession immediately.