The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Friday, 25 July 2008

Sri Lanka's worsening human rights could hit economy -EU

Sri Lanka's failure to address human rights concerns, including a "frightening" number of abductions, could cost the island nation a lucrative trade concession, the European Union said on Friday.

Concluding a visit to the island nation, an EU delegation for South Asia relations said that the Sri Lankan government needed to do more to address rights abuses.

Human rights groups have said around 150 people, most of them ethnic Tamils, were abducted in the first half of this year, most from the capital Colombo.

"The European parliament delegation urges the government of Sri Lanka, as a top priority, to organise investigations into these cases," the delegation said in a statement, describing the number of abductions as "frightening".

"The widespread belief that the military and police enjoy impunity does nothing to set ordinary people at ease and may even fuel the LTTE," it said, referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are fighting for a separate state for ethnic Tamils in the island's north and east.

Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions, disappearances and killings blamed on government security forces and Tamil Tiger separatists since a bloody civil war, in which 70,000 people have died since 1983, resumed in 2006.

The government has admitted there are rights abuses and has said it is doing its best to address them.

The trade concession, called the GSP+ scheme, expires in December. It helped Sri Lanka net a record $2.9 billion from EU markets last year, or 37.5 percent of total export income.

"The European Parliament delegation remains extremely anxious about the impact a possible loss of GSP+ status would have on the economy and employment in Sri Lanka," the EU statement said.

Sri Lanka was one of 15 countries granted GSP+ concessions in 2005 to help it recover from the Indian Ocean tsunami.

The island's garment and textile industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of largely rural poor, would be hard hit if the special trade terms were axed.

The European Commission said last month it would withhold a 70 million-euro aid package unless Sri Lanka removed barriers to humanitarian assistance.

Source: reuters