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European commission to withdraw special trade preferences to Sri Lanka
Press release from Tamil Solidarity. Contact Senan on 0790 80 50 217, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.tamilsolidarity.org
Senan addressing the European Parliament
Tamil Solidarity addressed the EU trade committee hearing on 14 January, held to debate the removal of the special trade preferences, termed the GSP+ concession or status, to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka faces charges of human rights violations.
The Sri Lankan ambassador argued that Sri Lanka was improving its human rights record, claiming that "former combatants have been released and sent for rehabilitation or held back for closer investigation... All child combatants are being rehabilitated." This 'improvement' was challenged by Senan, the Tamil Solidarity international coordinator, the other speaker in the debate.
Tamil Solidarity describes the current situation in Sri Lanka as a "modern holocaust". Senan accused the Sri Lanka government of creating 'transit centres' where released detainees are held and of, in effect, turning the north "into an open prison".
Every attempt of the ambassador to argue the government's line was strongly contested. He claimed that "since December 2008 only one child is reported to have been recruited [by militant groups]". But Tamil Solidarity pointed out that there is evidence that children as young as eight years old are kept in special detention centres, in effect torture camps.
The ambassador stated that the "Reporters sans Frontiers website listed only one alleged attempt to kidnap a journalist in the last year". But Vincent Brossel of RSF explained that on the previous day "a local journalist from the BBC was beaten by supporters of the minister because she was covering the election campaign."
Hypocritically the ambassador made a plea on behalf of those suffering the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004. But the Tamil Solidarity coordinator pointed out that the majority of the aid and tax relaxation made available to Sri Lanka had not reached most of the victims. He accused the corrupt Rajapakse government of spending the aid on further curtailing democratic rights.
Joe Higgins MEP spoke in favour of GSP+ withdrawal and accused the SL government of spinning a 'good news story' which was far from the reality of the experience of ordinary people.
He said that "absolutely no one wants to create a situation that can cause problems for the ordinary working and poor people in Sri Lanka. But it is the government of Sri Lanka that will carry the full responsibility if a decision is taken to withdraw the special status."
In the end the European Commission representative reported that it will withdraw the GSP+ to Sri Lanka in six months if no genuine improvements are made.
Here is the link for the video of the Tamil Solidarity speech inserted above:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03znhPYKdzQ
Here is the speech of Joe Higgins MEP, the Irish Socialist Party's member of the European Parliament.