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Saving Dr. Saravanamuttu

Some 'concerned citizens and members of civil society organisations' have published an advertisement (not in The Island) condemning 'death threats' to Dr. P. Saravanamuttu. They say, inter alia, "On August 20, 2009, he received a letter threatening him with death for allegedly passing information to the European Union which, the letter claims, will result in the GSP + plus facility being denied to Sri Lanka." They are of the view that it is the 'most recent attempt to intimidate Dr. Saravanamuttu'. They have, for some reason, stopped short of elaborating on the previous threats to his life, implied in their message.

We join the 'concerned citizens' and others in condemning the alleged threat/s to Dr. Saravanamuttu's life and call upon the government to order a high level investigation and take steps to ensure his safety.

What we gather from the advertisement in question is Dr. Saravanamuttu has come under threat from someone who wants the GSP Plus facility renewed. There are millions of people who need it including those in the garment industry and it is not possible to pin the blame on anyone. Even the British retailers have spoken in favour of extending Sri Lanka's GSP Plus! As such, it may be argued that the best way to protect Dr. Saravanamuttu's life is to prove beyond any doubt that he and his NGO are for the renewal of GSP Plus. Why should he risk his life for what he has not done?

The advertisement says, "As reiterated by the CPA, its position is that GSP Plus benefits MUST be renewed, and that Sri Lanka should use the opportunity to also strengthen its human rights protection framework by complying with international and national law." Unfortunately, in this country the NGO sector has lost its credibility because some of them have collaborated with the LTTE and carried out an anti-national campaign. Even the good NGOs and INGOs driven by altruism and are rendering yeoman service to mankind have come to be viewed with suspicion because of an errant few. Therefore, the CPA may not be able to convince the public not well disposed towards NGOs that it is for the renewal of GSP Plus with the help of a mere statement to that effect. Something more needs to be done.

Since the CPA says it has not opposed Sri Lanka's GSP renewal, it should put the record straight once and for all by making public all its submissions, both written and oral, to the EU on the issue. When The Sunday Island political correspondent made a request for those submissions over one month ago, the CPA sent him a book containing an article, which was not by Dr. Saravanamuttu but two other CPA bigwigs. (We refrain from commenting on the contents of that article as we are wary of fueling the flames, so to speak). The CPA insisted that no other submission had been made to the EU on GSP. If so, why did anyone send a threatening letter to Dr. Saravanamuttu, who is not the author of that article? As is common knowledge, the head of a research institution is not directly responsible for what is printed in its publications, especially where signed articles are concerned.

The EU is maintaining a deafening silence without making any effort to clear the air. Our Sunday Island colleague also sent five letters to the EU, among other things, requesting the terms of reference of the investigating committee on Sri Lanka's GSP Plus and oral and written submissions made by various parties including the CPA. The EU says it promotes right to information, media freedom, transparency and good governance but sadly, to this date, it has not even acknowledged the receipts of any of those five letters let alone reply to them. If the EU had had any difficulty in releasing such information at this stage, it should have had the courtesy to say so without acting like a blind deaf-mute. What moral right does the EU have to pontificate to the other countries on transparency while turning a blind eye to inquiries on vital matters affecting the developing world?

The person/s who threatened Dr. Saravanamuttu must be brought to justice. Similarly, the EU, too, must be faulted for its silence. By suppressing information about submissions relating to Sri Lanka's GSP Plus concession, the EU is allowing Dr. Saravanamuttu's critics to accuse him of trying to ruin the Sri Lankan economy.

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