Is Sri Lanka ready to dignify LGBTIQ lives?

PRESS RELEASE

EQUAL GROUND – Colombo Sri Lanka
21st May 2018

Can policy reform bring about social change in this country and how do we provide a life free of discrimination for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, and Questioning Community (LGBTIQ) persons in Sri Lanka?

The Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND Rosanna Flamer-Caldera sat with DIG Ajith Rohana of the Sri Lanka Police, Professor Camena Guneratne from the Open University, Ms Ambika Satkunanathan of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and Dr. Paikiasothy Sarvanamuththu of the Center for Policy Alternatives to discuss how to combat discrimination of LGBTIQ persons, as we commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT represents an annual landmark to draw the attention of decision makers, the media, the public, opinion leaders and local authorities to the alarming situation faced by LGBTIQ people and all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms) on the 17th of May 2018.

The discussion revolved around the commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka during its Universal Periodic Review (The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 United Nations (UN) Member States. Under this mechanism, the human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 5 years) in November of 2017 (The Government of Sri Lanka supported four recommendations on protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination and stated that they will be committing to reform the law of the country to reflect these recommendations).

During the panellist’s presentations, DIG Ajith Rohana acknowledged that there are isolated incidents of discrimination of LGBT persons, but they are working towards eliminating them by introducing sensitising programs in the police training curriculum. He strongly emphasised that no one should be discriminated because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

A highlighted point that was repeatedly discussed was the importance of social change following policy change and how the narrative should be shaped when challenging the laws that criminalise same-sex conduct. Humanising LGBTIQ issues by using real-life examples and cases of queer people can make it more relatable to those who do not understand the struggles of the LGBTIQ persons and eventually change people’s negative perceptions about the community.

Dr Sarvanamutthu strongly believes that there is power in numbers and representation. He suggests that it is time that families rally behind the movement; He urged parents and grandparents to strongly question the law and file for a class action lawsuit demanding for the decriminalisation of their children and grandchildren.
From a policy change stand point Professor Camena stated that even though the constitutional reform process is in the back burner there could be a possibility of explicit protection offered to the LGBTIQ community through expansion of the fundamental rights chapter. This reform, coupled with an introduction of post-enactment of judicial review of all legislation that is inconsistent with the constitution can nullify the criminalisation of same-sex conduct as stated in Penal Codes 365 and 365A of Sri Lanka.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has taken a strong public position in including explicit protection for the LGBTIQ community (The HRCSL appointed an LGBTIQ subcommittee, spearheaded the gender recognition certificate for transgender persons and is working with the press council of Sri Lanka to introduce a set of ethical media reporting guidelines). In Ms Satkunanathan’s presentation, she discussed the importance of not only sensitising the general public and civil society organisations but also the staff at the HRCSL (Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka) to be empathetic and non-judgemental.

The LGBTIQ community can also use other forms of legislature such as arbitrary violence and torture to safeguard themselves from unauthorised searches and questioning. Ms Ambika also urged that community members make use of the HRCSL’s complaint mechanism to report violations. We understand that policy change does need to be followed by social change and the continuous fight for equal rights has to involve the youth and multiple stakeholders such as our family members to strengthen our position.

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Find peace of mind: free counseling service for LGBTIQ persons

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BREAK THE SILENCE ABOUT LGBT VIOLENCE

Violence comes in different shapes and forms. Within the LGBT community, people are often subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse by family, peers and persons in positions of power. Such situations often go unnoticed due to the lack of explicit protection for the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of any form of violence based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, share your story with us. We can support you with legal, medical and emotional advice.

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[01] Lesbians Are Often Forced into Marriage Against Their Will. Which Results In A Lifetime Of Emotional, Physical And Sexual Abuse.

[02] Lesbian couples get beaten up or verbally abused based on their gender expressions and sexuality.

[03] Police officers arbitrarily arrest gay men causing physical and emotional distress by blackmailing them.

[04] Gay men and boys face sexual abuse by family members and peers because of their sexual orientation and gender expression.

[05] Trans women are sexually abused by law enforcement due to their gender identity and expression.

[06] Trans women are harassed verbally, physically and sexually on the street for their gender identity and expressions.

[07] Transmen are often questioned about their genitalia by law enforcement, the medical sector, the work force and other institutions, and are regularly forced to expose themselves causing grave emotional distress.

[08] Trans men are sexually abused by family members to “cure” them of their gender identity and expressions.

For a better view of our 16 day Campaign to end Violence against the LGBTIQ community got to:
BREAK THE SILENCE

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Sri Lanka commits to human rights protections for LGBTIQ people before the UN

PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

On Wednesday 15 November 2017 the UN reviewed Sri Lanka’s record on human rights as part of the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under the Human Rights Council.

The Sri Lankan government received seven specific recommendations to amend sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, which targets LGBTIQ people in consensual, adult relationships.
The following UN Member States made explicit recommendations with respect to decriminalisation: Honduras, Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, Uruguay, Australia and Brazil.

A further 6 states recommended that Sri Lanka adopt measures to combat the discrimination faced by the LGBTIQ community.
The following UN Member States made explicit recommendations with respect to combating discrimination against the LGBTIQ community: Honduras, Italy, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.

In response to issues raised with respect to the LGBTIQ community, Deputy Solicitor General Nerin Pulle underlined the government’s commitment to reforming Sri Lanka’s penal code to ensure that it meets international human rights standards.

Mr. Pulle added that the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is ‘implicit’ in the Sri Lankan constitution and, with the reform, will soon be made an ‘explicit’ guarantee in law.

He then quoted from a recent ruling of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, which attested: “The contemporary thinking [is that] consensual sex between adults should not be policed by the state nor should it be grounds for criminalisation”.
SC Appeal No.32/11 case was prosecuted under section 365A of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka. In the concluding paragraphs the Supreme Court made the notable remarks which can be accessed in its entirety at http://www.supremecourt.lk/images/documents/sc_appeal_32_11.pdf.

Mr. Pulle told the UPR: “Despite social, political and cultural challenges that remain with respect to reforming law, Sri Lanka remains committed to law reform and guaranteeing non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In response to the Sri Lankan Government’s UPR commitments, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND, said:

“We commend our government’s commitment to reforming the Penal Code and amending the Constitution to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds of non-discrimination.”

No one deserves to be targeted by the law because of who they are or whom they love. Our government has shown significant resolve in pledging to address the criminalisation faced by the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ community and guarantee them basic rights that have for so long been denied. Whether LGBTIQ or not, we are all entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights. We look forward to the government fulfilling on this commitment.

We welcome the Government of Sri Lanka’s willing and continued engagement with the Human Rights Council and the UPR process, and commend in particular our government’s commitment to the full realisation of human rights for all citizens in the country. We are pleased that in this regard our Government specifically addressed the questions and concerns raised by the UN Member States about the continued criminalisation of consensual same sex sexual conduct and the discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka.

We are very grateful for the efforts of the international community who continue to raise their concerns over the treatment of the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka and greatly appreciate the recommendations that have been made today.”

FOR PUBLISHING PURPOSES

Notes to Editors

1. Contact
For more information about the story or to request an interview with Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, please contact Sriyal Nilanka at sriyaln@equalgroundsrilanka.com or media@equalgroundsrilanka.com

2. EQUAL GROUND

EQUAL GROUND uses the law and other mechanisms to protect the basic rights of LGBTIQ people to live with dignity, free from discrimination and abuse.

People must not be persecuted as a result of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We believe in the equal protection of the rule of law and in the superior legal framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution.

We use that legal framework to effect long-term change that will improve the lives and life chances of ordinary LGBTIQ people currently living under the oppression of discriminatory laws.

We use political advocacy and public engagement to expand understanding of the oppression the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ community faces, and work towards ending it.

3. About the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

The Universal Periodic Review is a significant innovation of the UN as it involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every 5 years.

On Wednesday, 15 November 2017 the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights situation of Sri Lanka. This was Sri Lanka’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR); its last review took place in 2012.

In 2012, Canada and Argentina, respectively, had recommended that Sri Lanka decriminalise and strengthen measures to eliminate all discriminatory treatment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Sri Lankan delegation was questioned about any progress in this area as part of Wednesday’s review.

4. LGBTIQ people

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and questioning (LGBTIQ) people are those whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not match convention.

They are doctors, politicians, street sweepers and everything in between.

They are our neighbours. They are our daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents. They are ordinary Sri Lankans who are a part of every subsection of society.

They are all of us.

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Government of Sri Lanka commits to LGBTIQ rights

Geneva 15th November 2017

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)

EQUAL GROUND’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.”

EQUAL GROUND 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 EQUAL GROUND in advocating for the rights of the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka.

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