On the streets of Colombo, the average man does not view the reports as a means of progress. Most everyone I have spoken to can see nothing positive in both reports. They see foreign governments being lobbied by Tamil extremist to continue their fight against the Sri Lankan state. It is no secret that both the EU report and the US report on the final stages of Sri Lanka's war was heavily lobbied for and pushed for by members of the Tamil diaspora who are supporters of the Tamil Tigers.
I quote Amjad Saleem, head of communications for The Cordoba Foundation, an independent policy, research and public relations think tank,
"Elements of the Tamil diaspora, in particular, have been active in sustaining the conflict. Some are still trying to keep the cause alive by exerting pressure on the international community to instigate war crimes proceedings or cut back on trade subsidies such as the EU's generous tariff preference, the GSP+."
Those who have studied Sri Lanka's two decade long conflict know that these two reports from the US and EU came not out of love and care for Sri Lanka's people. Both reports were pushed for by the same extremist who shed the blood of the innocent on this island.
The government says it will study both reports.
Today, the media reported that the government would investigate the US report on Sri Lanka.
Lanka Business Online
Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said President Mahinda Rajapakse would shortly name a committee to look into incidents listed in the report that was submitted to the US Congress last week.Sri Lanka has made no mention of probing the EU report. To it's credit the US report states that it's report does not "reach conclusions concerning whether the alleged incidents detailed herein actually occurred."
"The president decided that he will appoint a committee to probe the contents of the report," the minister told reporters here. "After that, we will express our stand on this."
Whereas the EU report, at times, is filled with assumptions based on testimony from the same individual. An individual who may well be unbiased, but his sources may well be tainted.
Yet, the EU report draws conclusions and passes solid judgement in a damning report which accuses the Sri Lankan government of recruiting child soldiers. To be precise the EU report claims that Sri Lankan forces aided a breakaway Tamil Tiger faction (Karuna's group) to recruit children. Which is a silly notion given the fact that every child soldier is a huge burden on the state and the tax payers. For a third world country, Sri Lanka has consistently maintained a literacy rate above 92% over several years. That's due to it's commitment towards educating children, not recruiting child soldiers.
The EC’s final report released last week reiterates the accusation that the Karuna Group continued to forcibly recruit children in government held areas in 2006 to 2008 and that certain elements of the security forces "supported and sometimes participated in these abductions". The ‘evidence’ that the EC offers is the statement issued by Allan Rock, the UN Special Adviser on Children and Armed Conflict on November 13, 2006, to the effect that there was ‘strong and credible’ evidence that the armed forces were supporting and participating in the child recruitment by the Karuna faction.The apparel industry in Sri Lanka receives a trade concession (GSP plus) which allows Sri Lankan exports to enter EU member state with a 10% discount. This is at risk. The EU is threatening to take away the concession unless Sri Lanka acts on it's findings in the report.
Rock never revealed what this evidence was and the EC has only repeated this completely uncorroborated assertion. In the EC’s interim report released last August, they had mentioned some case studies done by Human Rights Watch as proof that the armed forces were involved with the Karuna Group’s child recruitment. However, after having read the nine HRW case studies involving 56 persons, I pointed out in my critique of the EC’s interim report that not one of those case studies says that the SL armed forces were involved. All the witnesses were very specific that it was the Karuna group that abducted their sons and not one witness said that military personnel were present among those that carried out the abductions.
The EC’s final report has no mention of the HRW case studies; they have simply reiterated Allan Rock’s assertion. It has to be respectfully pointed out that repeating an uncorroborated assertion does not constitute evidence.
An article on the state run Daily News says there maybe a plus side to loosing GSP plus. This could possibly highlight the sentiments shared by the Rajapaksa government as well.
Charity is the privilege of the affluent, this we know. In the global political economy, however, it is not necessarily a mechanism to secure feel-goodness. ‘Aid’ is a misnomer; it should in fact be read as ‘investment’. It is well known that for every dollar of ‘aid’ that comes into countries such as ours, several dollars go out through numerous avenues of extraction.
We must keep in mind that not all aid flows happily into the lives of intended beneficiaries. Aid is also about ensuring policy change that favours donors and, to be more specific, multinational capital interests.
It is a license to interfere, to change laws and even amend Constitution. It fosters dependency, sometimes of the most demeaning kind. It is often used as an instrument of punishment and frequently waved over our heads as a threat: ‘do this or that or else....’ In short, it is not innocent.
It is against this backdrop that one has to discuss the GSP Plus facility that the European Union is threatening to withdraw, as per recommendations from an ‘independent’ commission’s report on Sri Lanka’s performance (or lack thereof) on 27 international conventions in the fields of human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance.
When it is a matter where someone is judge, jury and witness, there is very little that anyone can do except tell that someone that he/she has got his/her organs mis-arranged (need I elaborate). After all, we have nothing to gain by genuflecting before moronic thugs.
The report of the ‘experts’ is for the most part predicated on ‘evidence’ offered by people who were hopelessly compromised in the Eelam Project, men and women with absolutely no integrity.
It was, in short, to be expected. If our institutional and legal arrangements are flawed they should be adjusted, but at our own pace and certainly not because some idiot in Europe has a bad temper and is mentally challenged.
As has been pointed out, there is no ‘friendship’ as such in the sphere of international relations, there are only ‘interests’. Sometimes these converge and agreements result, as always skewed in favour of the relatively more powerful of the agreeing parties. Whatever the horse-deals contained in the 27 international conventions, the bottom line remains ‘we signed and therefore we compromised.’ We are in the beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation. What do we do now?
Let’s go back to GSP+. What is it? “GSP+” is common shorthand for the “special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance” which is one of three non-reciprocal, preferential import regimes for developing countries under the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
Under GSP+ the EU provides additional preferences - beyond standard GSP treatment - to economically vulnerable developing countries which have ratified and effectively implemented 27 international conventions in the fields of human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance and which voluntarily apply for GSP+ benefits and accept the associated conditions. It is primarily a facility that helped Sri Lanka’s garment industry.
Previously, Sri Lanka had benefited by the quota system associated with the Multi-Fibre Agreement. When that lapsed in 2005, the industry naturally suffered. Small operations closed shop or were swallowed by the big boys.
Overall however the garment industry survived. GSP+ came at the end of 2006 and gave another boost to the industry. And here we must not forget that it helped the big-name garment retailers in Europe as well, since they could sell panties, bras and other garments cheaper and thereby maintain profit margins through the sheer volume of sales. Talk of withdrawing GSP+ has more than agitated these shop-owners, we must not forget.
Sri Lanka, for a long time, has depended on the success of the garment trade. The garment boom in this country was a result of a political climate that was extremely unfriendly to investment. ‘Garments’ was a relatively risk-free sphere of operation and successive government bent over backwards to support the industry.
Naturally, those in the business, grew to be a powerful behind-the-scenes lobby group that could almost dictate terms to successive regimes. When things got bad, they could extract concessions, obtain permission to defer EPF payments and so on, just to tide things over until happier days arrived (such as those heralded by GSP+).
Today, things are looking bleak for the garment industry. My sense is that the EU just wants to enjoy the sight of Sri Lanka squirming because at the end of the day it will have to listen to the garment importers headquartered in Europe. I believe we should not give them the pleasure.