National reconciliation, the empowerment of women and Sri Lanka’s application for the General System of Preferences (GSP+) were the main focus of discussions of the four-member delegation of the European Parliament (EP), led by Jean LAMBERT (Green), Chair of the Delegation for Relations with the Countries of South Asia, which has just concluded its 8th Interparliamentary Delegation mission to Sri Lanka. They had meetings in the last two days with representatives of the government, parliament and civil society.
The MEPs said they were pleased and impressed with the progress that has been made in Sri Lanka on Human Rights and national reconciliation, including the issuing of circulars to military and police about the need to respect the rights of detainees and suspects; the improvements in freedom of media, absence of censorship and the ability of civil society to operate more freely. The delegation expressed the need for deeper and faster progress in areas such as normalisation of life in the North and East and the replacement of the PTA with legislation that is in line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights commitments.
On GSP+, the MEPs stressed that the decision on Sri Lanka’s application will also need the approval of the European Parliament, and that the application’s success is dependent on tangible progress by Sri Lanka in areas of concern, including that the Code of Criminal Procedure includes the rights of detainees in keeping with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “This agreement has real opportunities open up for Sri Lanka, therefore we urge the government to do its best to seize this moment and to make sure that they meet the criteria”, the Chair of the delegation underlined during the meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In meetings with civil society, the delegation acknowledged the urgent need for empowerment of women at all levels in Sri Lankan society. The delegation welcomed the positive step taken by the government recently to improve women’s political empowerment by amending the Local Authorities Act to reserve at least 25% of political representation in local government for women. The MEPs acknowledged that more work was required to ensure women and girls are able to effectively participate in the formal economic, social and political system and to create a more conducive environment for the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ rights.
In addition to the Prime Minister, the EP delegation had extensive discussions with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, as well as different civil society organisations.
The MEPs also visited EUsupported projects in Trincomalee and Batticaloa and also met Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed. During their visit to the Eastern Province on 3 November 2016 they inaugurated several projects funded by the European Union including a waste management project in Chenkalady.
Technical and operational support for this initiative has been provided by the UNOPS with funding from the European Union. The facility also includes a composting plant within the premises for processing of biodegradable waste. The landfill and larger waste management system is set to benefit more than 400,000 people in the district.
Meanwhile, the Thowheed Jamath organization led a protest on 3 November against the proposed changes to be made, by the government to legislations pertaining to the Marriage and Divorce (Muslim) Act.
The General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath, Abdul Razeek, said the government should not adhere to the conditions of the European Union, stipulating that Islam marriage laws in Sri Lanka should be amended to make the legal age of marriage of a female to 18, in order to regain the GSP plus trade concessions as Islam allows the marriage of those below that age, even when 12-years-old.
Former Deputy Mayor of Colombo and Leader of the Muslim Tamil National Alliance, Azath Salley, threatened the government with protests if it attempts to change the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act stating that it was a conspiracy hatched by Rosy Senanayake, and the Deputy Head of the Prime Minister’s Office.