From The Economist print edition
A report for the European Union into Sri Lanka’s fitness for preferential tariff treatment is unfavorableRARELY has a government soiled its reputation as dramatically as Sri Lanka’s. In recent months President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime has won a war and lost the love of many allies.
Its alleged wartime and other abuses make a grim catalogue: thousands of Tamil civilians allegedly killed by army shelling during the rebels’ last stand; scores of Tamils disappeared; nearly 300,000 Tamil war-displaced callously interned; murder and intimidation of journalists—including J.S. Tissainayagam, sentenced to 20 years hard labour on August 31st for criticising the army’s tactics (see article).
There is not much high-minded western countries—to whom Sri Lanka once looked for aid money—can do about this. Mr Rajapaksa has found alternative friends, in China, Libya, Pakistan—and others, who recently scotched a European effort to launch a war-crimes investigation into Sri Lanka. But the Europeans do have one wrench on Mr Rajapaksa’s government: a trade concession known as “GSP Plus”. This boon, which has helped make exports to the EU the country’s biggest source of foreign exchange, worth $3.3 billion last year, is up for review. Judging by an EU-commissioned report on Sri Lanka’s compliance with its terms, which include stipulations on human rights, it can kiss the concession goodbye.
The confidential 130-page report, which has been obtained by The Economist, concludes that Sri Lanka has failed to honour important human-rights commitments, and is ineligible for GSP Plus. Widespread police torture, abductions of journalists, politicised courts and uninvestigated disappearances have all played a part in creating a state of “complete or virtually complete impunity in Sri Lanka”. The internment of the Tamil displaced, which the government claims is necessary to weed out the last Tamil Tiger rebels and to protect them from munitions left in their fields, is “a novel form of unacknowledged detention”.
A final decision on GSP Plus is not due until October. The government, which barred the report’s authors from visiting Sri Lanka, called the study “outrageous” but seems resigned to losing the trade preference: a senior official in the trade ministry, S. Ranugge, admitted: “GSP Plus is very unlikely.”
Perhaps this does not bother Mr Rajapaksa: defying the West is part of his appeal. Anyway, his minions recently secured a $2.6 billion loan from the IMF. But as an indicator of where one of Asia’s oldest democracies may be headed, it should worry Sri Lankans, and all who wish their country well