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Defending Human Rights

Nongovernmental rights activists continued to play a critical role, sometimes in difficult and dangerous circumstances. In the lead-up to parliamentary elections, human rights defenders campaigned against political violence. Trade unions and media freedom groups joined them in opposing censorship and other emergency measures.

At the end of January, two hundred participants from around the world commemorated the life and work of Neelan Tiruchelvam, a renowned Tamil human rights activist who was killed in a LTTE suicide bombing in 1999. The gathering launched the Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Fund, dedicated to the promotion of human rights, minority rights, and the resolution of ethnic conflict. In late March, Sri Lankan human rights defenders welcomed the appointment of new commissioners to Sri Lanka's National Human Rights Commission, which had been criticized in its first three years of operation as lacking in leadership and resources.

Early on the morning of June 27, a grenade was thrown into the compound of the Save the Children Fund office in Colombo. A car parked at the premises was damaged but no one was injured in the attack.

In June, the Sri Lankan Press Council rejected a complaint filed by Sherman de Rose, founder of Companions on a Journey, a gay rights organization, against the Island newspaper for printing a letter that called for convicted rapists to be sent to attack lesbians. The council ruled that the letter was published in the "interest of the community," and that De Rose had no standing because he was male. The Council maintained that "lesbianism itself is an act of sadism," and noted that homosexuality was an offense under Sri Lanka's penal code. De Rose was ordered to pay the newspaper 2,100 rupees (U.S. $28) in costs.

In September, the Alliance for Democracy in Sri Lanka, composed of nearly seventy civic groups, trade unions, religious institutions of different faiths, and NGOs, launched a nationwide "yellow ribbon" campaign to support free and fair elections. The alliance sought to persuade one million Sri Lankans to wear yellow ribbons each day until the conclusion of the parliamentary elections in October to symbolize their support.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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