Months of advocacy and lobbying came to fruition as the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka concluded in Geneva today. While in 2012 Argentina and Canada recommended decriminalisation of same sex relationships and non-discriminatory policies to be placed to protect the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka, this year saw an unprecedented 9 countries recommending decriminalisation and non-discriminatory policies to safeguard LGBTIQ rights in our country. We would like to thank Honduras, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia & Brazil for making recommendations on decriminalisation of same-sex conduct and protection against discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity during the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka today. Our gratitude also extends to Brazil, Germany, the United States of America and Norway for raising advanced questions to the GOSL on behalf of the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka.
We would also like to commend the commitment extended by the Government of Sri Lanka during its review today to reform discriminatory laws, include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution and add non-discriminatory policies to abolish discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. (Downoad the audio file of the statement made by the GOSL on the issue of LGBTIQ at the 28th session of the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka – AUD-20171115-WA0000.m4a)
EQUALGROUND’s Executive Director Rosanna Flamer-Caldera said, “We are confident the Government of Sri Lanka will stand by its statements and not only accept these recommendations but also implement them as soon as possible. This was indeed a historic day in the struggle for equal rights for the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka as this was the first time in the history of the UPR and other treaty body reviews, that the GOSL has made such a positive and committed statement on behalf of the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka.”
EQUALGROUND would like to thank The Center for International Human Rights (CIHR) of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and The Global Initiatives for Human Rights (GIHR), ILGA, COC Netherlands, and Human Dignity Trust, for their continued support during this UPR process in assisting EQUALGROUND in advocating for the rights of the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka.
In response to the Sri Lankan Government’s National Human Rights Action Plan, which was released yesterday (2nd November 2017), Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of EQUALGROUND, said:
“We welcome the advancement to Sri Lankan citizens’ human rights protections today and commend in particular our government’s commitment to protecting those discriminated against as a result of their gender identity.
We at EQUALGROUND believe that all Sri Lankans should be afforded the freedom to live their lives without fear of oppression, violence or discrimination. This includes those who are targeted as a result of their sexual orientation, a group conspicuously missing from the action plan.
The work we do everyday exposes us to the reality of those living under threat of violence because of whom they love. These are vulnerable communities that need and deserve protection from the state, to the same level as all other Sri Lankans.
We hope the government sees fit to re-dress this missed opportunity and to include sexual orientation where appropriate as a protected characteristic. Human rights are for all of us.”
The Government of Sri Lanka published the much-anticipated National Human Rights Action Plan for 2017-2021 on the 2nd of November 2017 through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. EQUALGROUND commends the Government of Sri Lanka’s attempts to advancing the rights of Sri Lankan citizens. We are especially happy to see that the Government has taken measures to protect the rights of Trans persons by including non-discrimination based on ones Gender Identity in the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Constitution. This advancement would help us address the various forms of harassment the Trans community faces from society as well as law enforcement on a regular basis.
It is however unfortunate to see that regardless of the Government‘s acknowledgement to International treaty bodies and the Government’s commitment in the National Report to the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka (A/HRC/WG.6/28/LKA/1, Section IV:A P7) to eliminate discriminatory provisions set forth by the Penal Code (Section 365 & 365A criminalises carnal intercourse against the order of nature and acts of gross indecency committed in private or public, which is widely understood to target same sex activities), as well as guarantee non-discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation, the NHRAP 2017-2021 has failed to follow up by not including Sexual Orientation as a basis for protection against discrimination in the fundamental rights chapter of the constitution.
The NHRAP 2017-2021 also calls to review and amend the right to privacy in the Sri Lankan constitution (3.1.2) which in an essence should stand for protection against Section 365A of the Penal Code, that warrants the criminalisation of same-sex activities committed in private. However, we are sceptical that such provisions would guarantee the right to privacy of person of minority sexual orientations.
Section 6.6.4 of the NHRAP 2017-2021 includes an action to eliminate discriminatory practices within the health care setting based on ones perceived or actual sexual orientation. This shows that the Government of Sri Lanka is aware of such discrimination occurring, at least in the healthcare sector. But, the performance indicator for this action is inadequate because it simply measures the success of elimination of discrimination by the number of programs conducted. Furthermore, no agency has been appointed to overlook the programme. Any person facing discrimination based on their sexual orientation in the healthcare sector has no redress in the eyes of the government without an explicit protection under the fundamental rights chapter of the constitution.
The President and the Prime Minister strongly believes that this Action Plan is a constructive step by the Government of Sri Lanka to protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of all Sri Lankans. They further comment on how the plan was spear headed by civil societies and UN agencies yet the NHRAP fails to address the Governments own commitments to the UN mechanisms and the recommendations they have received from them. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights in their concluding observations during the 61st session 2017 (E/C.12/LKA/CO/5 Sec C:14 P4) recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka “expand the non-discrimination clause in article 12(2) of the Constitution to include sexual orientation.”
Contradiction of this sort only proves that the Government of Sri Lanka is yet to acknowledge persons with minority sexual orientations as people of the country; who as active contributors to society, require to be protected just as anyone else. We have the right to live lives free of criminalisation and discrimination based on our sexual orientations as well as our gender identity and expressions. It’s about time that 134 years of criminalisation and systematic discrimination of the LGBTIQ community comes to an end and we are acknowledged as a part of a vulnerable group which requires explicit protection by the Government of Sri Lanka.
EQUALGROUND, the only LGBTIQ advocacy organisation in Sri Lanka is proud to announce the launch of the first LGBTIQ lifestyle magazine in Colombo today. Aptly names EQUALITY, it is the first magazine of its kind to be published in Sri Lanka amidst a burgeoning and thriving lifestyle publications industry in this country.
For 12 years, EQUALGROUND has served the LGBTIQ community and its allies with the ‘Rainbow News’ newsletter. The switch to a lifestyle magazine was made to create a wider platform for members of the LGBTIQ community to express their opinions and showcase their talents while appealing to all audiences in Sri Lanka.
“Our intention was to create a platform where the LGBTIQ community of this country can contribute in all three languages. So that irrespective of your area, race or social status any member has the equal opportunity to come forward and express themselves,” said Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of the EQUALGROUND. “It is also a platform for young entrepreneurs, photographers, artists and others from the community to be featured creating publicity for their craft or business,” she added.
With the launch of ‘EQUALITY’, the first of its kind in the country, EQUALGROUND has taken a step towards a more accepting, united, happy and humane society.
EQUALGROUND is a nonprofit organisation seeking economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning (LGBTIQ) community of Sri Lanka. We are committed to creating a safe space for all LGBTIQ individuals and to providing opportunities for self-help including mental wellbeing, economic, social and political empowerment, access to health, education, housing and legal protection for the LGBTIQ community. EQUALGROUND is the only truly mixed organisation in Sri Lanka which includes the wider identities of the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka as well as our heterosexual allies and friends.
Colombo PRIDE 2016 is proud to present the 12th edition of CELLULOIDRAINBOWS – the only LGBTIQ film festival in Sri Lanka. All films will be held at the Goethe Institute in Colombo. For more information on Private screenings each day, please call 011-2805187.