The prospect of a country that flouts Commonwealth values taking the position of leadership in the Commonwealth is unpalatable to those who oppose Sri Lanka playing host to the CHOGM. The Commonwealth Charter, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, calls for the Rule of Law, Separation of Powers and Freedom of Expression, among others, some of which are under threat in the country. The Commonwealth Journalists’ Association; the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association; the Commonwealth Legal Education Association; the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association; Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council are other Commonwealth groups that have expressed their opposition to Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM.
The latest area of challenge to Sri Lanka lies in observing Commonwealth values in relation to the strengthening of civil society. International pressure can be useful in expanding the shrinking space for civil society in Sri Lanka. Recently the government has been talking of new legislation with new registration requirements to get a tighter control over NGOs. The Role of Civil Society is one of the 16 paragraphs of the Commonwealth Charter which has also been signed by Sri Lanka. It states, "We recognise the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and in achieving development goals."
However, instead of there being a strengthening of civil society work in partnership with the government, there has been a weakening of it in Sri Lanka over the past few years. There has been a constriction of the space for many civil society activities in Sri Lanka due to the appearance of government mistrust of these organizations. NGOs are often laboratories of small scale initiatives that can be replicated at a higher level by bigger entities. Unfortunately, the government does not give NGOs a place on their planning or advisory committees although there are some exceptions. The Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration has an advisory expert committee which brings in many from civil society groups and NGOs.
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