A human rights organisation that works in Sri Lanka is now accepting bitcoin donations to protect the identities of supporters.
The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, a London-based NGO that campaigns for “justice, human rights and reconciliation” in Sri Lanka, began taking bitcoin donations this week.
So far, the NGO has received just over 1 BTC in donations.
“There is a very real fear within Sri Lanka of retaliation by government forces if you are seen as working closely with international human rights organisations,” said Fred Carver, the organisation’s campaigns director.
Bitcoin allows would-be supporters to donate to the campaign anonymously and without fear of retribution, as long as they don’t leave any links between their bitcoin and real-life identities. Carver said:
“We use PayPal for most of our donations and we have had people on several occasions refuse to donate, or sent us cash instead, because they were concerned that, were they to be known to be a donor to the campaign, it could cause trouble for family in Sri Lanka.”
Following the end of the 30-year Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, the government has come under significant criticism for human rights abuses against the rebel Tamil Tigers.
Estimates for the number of civilians killed in the final phase of the war, when the government had the Tamils cornered on a narrow strip of coast in the north-east of the country, are as high as 40,000.
A number of Channel 4 investigations have laid bare the actions of the government in winning the war and last week UK Prime Minister David Cameron was criticised for attending the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
The Sri Lankan government has been accused by some of crimes against humanity. Carver said:
“I had been looking for something like bitcoin since an incident about three years ago when a potential partnership in Sri Lanka fell apart because there was no way in which money could be transferred between us without the state-owned Sri Lankan central bank throwing up all kinds of obstacles.”
In 2012, bitcoin came on to his radar and although it wouldn’t have bypassed the auditing issues they previously faced, “it did occur to me that bitcoin could solve other problems, particularly those faced by individual givers”.
He admits that he does not expect there to be a massive demand to donate via bitcoin, but says they are offering donors a more anonymous way of contributing funds “out of principle”.
“The point is that now a technologically savvy donor from Sri Lanka could donate to us without fear, if they so chose,” says Carver.
The NGO is yet to develop a strategy for converting the bitcoins into fiat currency, but is likely to convert them into pounds.
“We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” says Carver.