EU calls on Sri Lanka to protect Tamil war refugees


Luxembourg: Sri Lanka must grant proper treatment to people who fled the fighting between government and Tamil Tiger forces if it is to have any chance of a peaceful settlement, European Union foreign ministers said Tuesday.

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“They won the war, now they must win the peace, and we stand ready to help them,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said after talks with EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

Ever since Sri Lanka launched its final campaign against the Tamil Tigers, the EU has demanded that it pay proper attention to civilians, and especially those who fled the fighting, known as internally displaced people, or IDPs.

“Indiscriminate detention of IDPs in Sri Lanka is a clear violation of international law,” ministers said in a joint statement.

“It is not acceptable that a proportion of those IDPs who have been able to return (home) have not in fact been allowed to go back to their homes, but have been placed in new camps which are also closed,” the statement said.

On Oct 19 the EU’s executive, the European Commission, warned that the bloc could freeze Sri Lanka out of tens of millions of euros’ worth of trade privileges because of concerns over its human-rights record.

That stems from a trade privilege system called GSP+, which allows countries which sign up to it improved trade conditions in return for pledges to live up to United Nations democratic and human-rights standards.

Under GSP+, “we have an obligation to address the humanitarian and human-rights issues in Sri Lanka,” Bildt said.

Foreign ministers said that they would consider the commission report in the coming weeks.

More generally, reconciliation with Tamil communities is “is in the long-term interest of Sri Lanka itself: without a genuine policy of reconciliation, it’s going to be very difficult in the years ahead,” Bildt said.

“We would like to engage with the Sri Lankan authorities to see if we can make any contribution” to that process, he said.

The last time the EU urged Sri Lanka to protect human rights, it provoked a violent reaction in the country, with prominent EU foreign ministers accused of siding with the Tamil rebels and being burned in effigy in the streets of Colombo.

Subsequently, the Sri Lankan government refused to let Bildt enter the country to study the results of the war, although it let the French and British foreign ministers enter.