All communities enjoy equal rights, EU updated on SL’s legal reform programme


Highlighting the pluralistic composition of the country, Sri Lanka had reiterated that all communities enjoy equal rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the country, at the European Union-Sri Lanka fifth Working Group meeting on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights last week.

The Sri Lankan side had also updated the European Union (EU) on the extensive legal reform program currently undertaken by the Ministry of Justice and the consultative processes that brought together officials, sector experts and members of the official and unofficial Bars. The EU encouraged Sri Lanka to consider a broad consultation process in this undertaking.

The working group which met in Colombo on September 29 was co-chaired by Director General, Europe, Manisha Gunasekera, and Head of South Asia Division, European External Action Service, Ioannis Giogkarakis-Argyropoulos.

The event took place in the context of regular bilateral exchanges between the European Union and Sri Lanka. During the one-day meeting, the two parties reaffirmed their commitment to good governance, adherence to the rule of law, and protection of human rights. They discussed common interests pertaining to the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms, and agreed to continue cooperation on issues of relevance, a joint release issued by the two parties stated.

During an exchange of experiences in managing the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka appreciated the EU’s contribution to Covax which supports vaccine equity and benefits developing countries. The EU reiterated the importance of fostering social, economic and political inclusion through justice, reconciliation and accountability.

Among the other topics discussed were the 20th Amendment, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers and the ongoing work of independent institutions. The importance of the effective functioning of independent institutions was also highlighted.

The EU and Sri Lanka had agreed on the importance of engaging civil society and giving it the space to function in all its diversity. The EU expressed its readiness to continue supporting Sri Lanka in these efforts.

Matters relating to minorities and measures to address hate speech were also taken up.

“Sri Lanka provided an update on the process to review the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and reiterated its commitment to bring it in line with international norms and standards within a time-bound process. The EU and Sri Lanka agreed to take stock of progress in this regard at the next meeting of the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission early next year. The need to uphold international norms and standards of human rights while countering terrorism and violent extremism was also underlined,” the joint release stated.

Welcoming the continued moratorium on executions, the EU encouraged Sri Lanka to take steps towards the formal abolition of capital punishment reiterating its opposition to the death penalty in any circumstance.

Cooperation with the Human Rights Council, including treaty bodies, special procedures and universal periodic review had also come up at the discussions. The two parties agreed to work towards enhancing cooperation in multilateral fora, including the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 in the United Nations framework.

The first meeting of the working group was held on January 21, 2016.

The visiting EU delegation also participated in meetings related to the EU GSP+ Third Cycle of Review process (2020-2021). The meetings were attended by a broad range of stakeholders of the Government comprising over 30-line agencies.

The EU delegation comprised senior officials from the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

The team is due to meet the President tomorrow.