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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

Devadithya, EU Parliamentarian, writes to head of EU Dr. Mekel: Don't apply "bizarre" double standards in dealing with Sri Lanka

Sunil C.Perera – Asian Tribune

London, 28 March, (Asiantribune.com): EU Parliamentarian and EPP-ED Coordinator of the Development Committee of the European Parliament, Niranjan Devadithya, focusing on current situation in Sri Lanka, has written to the current head of the EU, Dr Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, appealing to her to "use our (EU) “soft power” to further EU influence in the world......with consistency and fairness."Niranjan Devadithya MEP: Today notwithstanding 26 years of conflict and bloody separatist suicide terrorism, Sri Lanka still functions as a mature open democracy where the rule of law prevails and where even the main political parties have agreed to cooperate to advance the national interest and national security.Niranjan Devadithya MEP: Today notwithstanding 26 years of conflict and bloody separatist suicide terrorism, Sri Lanka still functions as a mature open democracy where the rule of law prevails and where even the main political parties have agreed to cooperate to advance the national interest and national security.

He added: "To do otherwise will make us a laughing stock in the international community at a time when the EU is poised to celebrate 50 years of a common purpose and common values. If we do not, China and other emerging powers will fill the vacuum."

Sri Lankan born Devadithya elected to the House of Commons on the Conservative Party ticket has focused on three issues in dealing with Sri Lanka: 1) the linking of tsunami aid to political conditions like human rights. humanitarian issues. He says it is "inappropriate even to think of it". He added: "do we ask the people freezing to death on the slopes of Azad Kashmir to continue to do so because President Musharraf has just arrested the Chief Justice"?

(2) EU's insistence on empowerment of women to grant GSP plus status for garment exports as agreed for 2008. He says it's "bizarre to argue for the empowerment of women as we in the EU incessantly do...and then cast these women in poverty." Drawing another parallel he says: " I cannot recall the EU applying these criteria to its trade with the USA over collateral damage incurred by the Americans in the war in Iraq, which personally I am in favour of, as I am, in rooting out terrorism in Sri Lanka."

(3) The travel advisory” issued by the Federal Republic and by France which affects the livelihood of thousands of hotel workers and travel related jobs." He adds wryly: "Having being bombed by the IRA in Brighton and London myself, I have never been aware of a travel warning by other European countries abut visitors to London."

Highlighting the double standards applied in dealing with situations where the interests of EU are threatened and not threatened he says: "This cannot be and the European Parliament and my Committee are very conscious of this."

Here is the full text of the letter sent to Dr. Merkel:

Bundeskanzlerin Frau Dr Angela Merkel
Bundeskanzleramt
Willy-Brandt-Straße 1
10557 Berlin

Dear Chancellor

I am writing, in my capacity as a EPP-ED Coordinator of the Development Committee of the European Parliament and a British Conservative MEP born in Sri Lanka to draw your attention, as the current President of the EU, to three matters regarding our continuing relationship with Sri Lanka

There are I understand current concerns about the human rights situation fuelled by the enduring conflict.

This is of course a matter of importance. Of equal importance is the ability and opportunity of 19 million ordinary Sri Lankans from all communities including the Tamil community, the majority of whom live prosperously side by side with the Sinhalese in the South, to continue to live a life that realises their opportunities and potential.

The promise that was Sri Lanka in the 1950 was destroyed by the continuing asinine terrorism let loose by the LTTE in the early 1980s in response to chauvinistic and short-sighted policies of some Sinhalese leader’s in the 1960 and 1970s.

That was then.

Today notwithstanding 26 years of conflict and bloody separatist suicide terrorism, Sri Lanka still functions as a mature open democracy where the rule of law prevails and where even the main political parties have agreed to cooperate to advance the national interest and national security

This is a phenomenal achievement given that many other countries including some in Europe have succumbed as we saw in the 1930’s to dictatorship and fascism in similar circumstances of instability, terror and unemployment.

In the SAARC region in particular Sri Lanka is a model of institutional stability and rectitude; when compared to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, the Maldives to name a few.

After 26 years of a conflict fuelled by terrorism, these democratic values have not been easy to maintain. Remarkably, Sri Lanka has done so.

This achievement needs to be recognised by the EU under your Presidency.

In my capacity as Development Coordinator and Budget draftsman, I played a part together with my Parliamentary colleagues in securing succour and support for Sri Lanka to achieve stability during her time of crisis. In this I was particularly grateful for the support of Dr Hans Gert Poettering, then leader of the EPP ED and now President of the European Parliament and my colleagues in the Development Committee.

The first was the Tsunami when the EU then under the Luxembourg Presidency assisted the Parliament to secure sufficient funds from the Emergency Reserve. This led to a rehabilitation programme similar to the one undertaken in Banda Aceh to provide long term economic rehabilitation through road building for the poorest and most tsunami affected part of Sri Lanka in the deep south

The road building from Matara to Ampara and Batticaloa commenced after contracts were signed and is underway; and is linked to the tsunami emergency reconstruction programme. Tsunami reconstruction is a humanitarian response to a natural disaster. It is therefore very inappropriate even to think of linking this project to political conditions like human rights.

We would not link EU relief to the Pakistan earthquake victims to the reform of Madrassas in Pakistan and to a time table to return from a military dictatorship to democracy, nor do we ask the people freezing to death on the slopes of Azad Kashmir to continue to do so because President Musharraf has just arrested the Chief Justice.

On the contrary we appear to be most accommodating to Pakistan in all matters because they are also apparently fighting a war on terrorism, which has a direct bearing on the peace and stability of the EU and European lives. So when our interests are threatened we appear to apply a different standard to when they are not. This cannot be and the European Parliament and my Committee are very conscious of this.

Secondly, Sri Lanka has assiduously worked to protect core worker rights as defined by the ILO and has satisfied the other conditions required, for her to be granted GSP plus status for garment exports. Pascal Lamy then Trade Commissioner, the Govt of Sri Lanka and the European Parliament worked over a period of three years to achieve this in the face of opposition from some EU countries. Over 700,000 young women depend on these exports to live and support their families.

It would be bizarre to say the least, to argue for the empowerment of women as we in the EU incessantly do; and then cast these women into poverty in Sri Lanka simply to teach the Government a lesson about human rights in the conflict zones, by not granting the GSP plus status previously agreed for 2008. I do not believe the Parliament would accept this.

Again to look at a parallel, I cannot recall the EU applying these criteria to its trade with the USA over collateral damage incurred by the Americans in the war in Iraq, which personally I am in favour of, as I am, in rooting out terrorism in Sri Lanka.

Thirdly, the “travel advisory” issued by the Federal Republic and by France is deeply damaging to the secure lively hood of thousands of hotel workers and travel related jobs. Having being bombed by the IRA in Brighton and London myself, I have never been aware of a travel warning by other European countries abut visitors to London. Bombs in Ireland or more recently in London and Madrid have not elicited a travel advisory by Member States about travelling to Britain or Spain.

Yet with the conflict in Sri Lanka, in a country the size of the whole of Ireland, largely confined to the East, and requiring about 10 hrs of travel on poor roads to get to the conflict zone, why is there a travel advisory that covers the whole island? In the 26-year conflict not a single tourist has been killed or injured or abducted. So why is there such a blanket travel caution which damages the economic livelihood of some of the poorest tsunami affected people in other safe parts of the country?

If we are to use our “soft power” to further EU influence in the world, we need to do so with consistency and fairness. To do otherwise will make us a laughing stock in the international community at a time when the EU is poised to celebrate 50 years of a common purpose and common values. If we do not, China and other emerging powers will fill the vacuum.

As a member of the same political family, I am sure you will appreciate the sincerity of this letter written at an important time for the global community and for Europe.

I am copying this letter to Commissioner Benita Ferraro Waldner, High Representative Javier Solana, and the Heads of Governments of the EU Member States.

- Asian Tribune -

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