ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 01

Lanka faces heavy flak in Brussels

  • Serious indictments likely on human rights record

From Neville de Silva in London

Sri Lanka is expected to come under heavy flak for its recent human rights record when the European Parliament's Development Committee holds an open hearing on Tuesday in Brussels.

Several local and international NGOs and human rights groups and activists are expected make critical observations when they too are present at the afternoon hearing at which the 35-member Committee on Development evaluates Sri Lanka's human rights performance and humanitarian aid provided by the European Union (EU) following the December 2004 tsunami.

The Committee is expected to review the use of that aid, whether there has been discrimination in its allocation, whether local and international agencies have been able to function in tsunami-affected areas and whether human rights violations have occurred.

Though decisions of the Committee are not binding on the European Parliament (EP) or the European Commission, it has the power to submit reports containing draft resolutions to the plenary of the parliament for final adoption.

Whether the committee will exercise its right to table a resolution or initiate a debate in plenary depends very much on assessments provided to the members by local and foreign NGOs about the current human rights situation.

It also depends on how successful the lobbying of European parliamentarians by the LTTE and the larger Tamil community has been in recent months, observers said.

Last year pro-LTTE supporters had tried to push through amendments to resolutions on Sri Lanka before the European Parliament by lobbying some British and Scandinavian MEPs but the amendments were defeated at the voting.

It is understood that this time round pro-LTTE groups are hoping at least to have a debate called for at plenary if they fail to get a condemnatory draft resolution drawn up by the Development Committee whose Human Rights Group is in charge of monitoring and raising awareness of the human rights situation in developing countries.

Among the experts listed to be present at the Committee hearing are Charu Hogg of the Human Rights Watch, New York; Jayantha Samarasinghe, director of finance and accounts of the Reconstruction and Development Agency; Jeevan Thiagarajah, executive director,Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies and other NGO representatives.

The Sri Lanka Government would be represented by Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Human Rights and a team of lawyers from the Attorney General's Department and Sri Lanka's ambassador to the European Union and possibly Aruni Wijewardene, Sri Lanka's ambassador in Austria.

Meanwhile, some Sri Lankan groups are to hold a demonstration before the House of Commons on Friday to condemn attempts by a recently established all-party parliamentary group supporting the Tamils to have the ban on the LTTE lifted.

Some British MPs told The Sunday Times that Friday is a "bad day" to hold protests as few MPs are present in parliament, most of them being in their constituencies on that day.

"If the demonstration is to be effective the organisers should have picked another day of the week," one MP said. Despite the efforts launched by Labour MP Keith Vaz who was described by a Labour Party colleague as a "publicity hunter", informed sources said there is little likelihood of the British Government lifting the ban.

"That is not the official government stance. Of course, much would also depend on how the Sri Lanka government acts," he said.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.