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Defending Human Rights
Although human rights defenders continued to play a crucial role in exposing, combatting and preventing abuse, they faced both legal and extralegal efforts to silence criticism. Organizations with a specialized thematic focus such as children’s rights, gay rights, the rights of workers or women grew in strength and number and were responsible for introducing important issues for public debate. At the same time, Sri Lankan nongovernmental organizations came under additional government regulation in 1998. Both local and international organizations that worked in conflict areas or with conflict-affected people faced restrictions on their activities, and some found themselves accused of partisan loyalties. Peace groups and groups advocating free expression also ran risks of censure. As noted previously, journalists faced particular dangers in 1998.

The government took advantage of an opposition walk-out on March 4 to rush through a controversial amendment to the Voluntary Social Service Organisations (Registration and Supervision) Act which allowed the government to replace an NGO’s executive committee with an interim board if there was evidence of fraud or misappropriation; the original act also allowed officials to enter and inspect NGO offices and attend meetings. The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka declared it a violation of freedom of association and called for its repeal.

International Alert, a British organization devoted to conflict resolution, was forced to close its office in Colombo following its dismissal in June of an employee who wrote an article critical of the LTTE in a local newspaper. The paper reacted to the dismissal by attacking International Alert and other “like-minded NGOs” as LTTE fronts. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar joined in the attack.

In May, Peace Brigades International, an organization specializing in protective accompaniment of persons at risk of political violence, announced that it was ending nine years of work in Sri Lanka after officials from the ministries of defense and foreign affairs informed the organization that it would be required to submit all future reports to authorities before publication if its representatives wished to remain in the country. Peace Brigade’s reports frequently contained information about human rights situations faced by persons under their protection.

On September 8, parliament created a National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) to protect children from sexual and other forms of abuse and to treat victims. The body would implement new, tougher laws relating to child abuse, including an amendment to the penal code denying bail to persons accused of sexual offences against children.





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