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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.
On reconciliation, 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+, 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 will next visit European Union-supported projects in Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The delegation is also scheduled to meet Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed.
The visit included a press conference at the EU Delegation on 1 November 2016.
The delegation was composed of 4 Members of the European Parliament:
Ms. Jean LAMBERT (UK/Green), Chair of the South Asia Delegation
Mr. Thomas MANN (DE/Conservative), Member of the South Asia Delegation
Ms. Ulrike MÜLLER (DE/Liberal, Member of the South Asia Delegation
Mr. Sajjad KARIM (UK/European Conservatives and Reformists), standing rapporteur South Asia of the International Trade Committee