The Sunday Leader

LGBTI Rights Secured

By Camelia Nathaniel

In many parts of the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people face discrimination, stigmatization and acts of violence. Protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTI people to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly is crucial to end their discrimination and address the appalling human rights violations inflicted upon them. These are not only basic rights, but they are also essential in allowing individuals to claim other rights, in particular the rights to freedom from discrimination and equality before the law, and they can contribute to fostering public debate in society.

There is finally good news from the UN for the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka. In an unprecedented statement the Government of Sri Lanka informed the Experts Committee reviewing Sri Lanka for ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) that “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) is protected under Article 12 of the Sri Lankan Constitution.”

Earlier, the Experts Committee requested the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) to respond to several questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Para five of the list of issues (LOI) submitted by the expert committee asked: “Please indicate the measures taken to protect persons from stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and indicate whether they are protected by the constitutional provisions on non-discrimination”.

While not responding to the question on protection the GOSL stated: “Article 12 of the Constitution recognizes non-discrimination based on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one of such grounds as a Fundamental Right. This measure protects persons from stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identities.”

Despite an increase in the number countries that have repealed laws and abolished policies that discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, 77 countries still criminalize consensual relations between adults of the same sex. Some countries also criminalize certain gender identities and expressions, affecting transgender people. Such discriminatory laws violate international human rights norms, fuel violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, contribute to a culture of impunity and perpetuate hostile environments. These laws should be repealed.

The Executive Director of Equal Ground, Rosanna Flamer Caldera said, “We are extremely pleased with this outcome and applaud the government for clarifying the interpretations of the Constitution and the law regarding SOGI in Sri Lanka. While this may not rain sunshine for the LGBTIQ community just yet, there is now at least a sense of hope things will start changing in Sri Lanka and that the LGBTIQ community will be able to hold their heads a bit higher as the days go by. We also urge the government to open dialog with the LGBTIQ community, particularly those advocating for better treatment and equality for LGBTIQ individuals in this country and put in place, non-discriminatory laws and statutes that will protect our community.”

Last year when the President’s manifesto was being drafted, Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe suggested that they include introducing the Bill of Rights that had been prepared when he was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. Jayampathy Wickremaratne had chaired the committee and done a good job, so when he said this would be too much, and we should just talk about the Right to Information, Wijesinghe assumed they should go by his views.

Professor Wijesinghe told The Sunday Leader that the Bill had been prepared in accordance with a pledge in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya but no one else seemed interested in it after the 2010 election. So he had to raise the subject himself with the President. “He said there were some things in it he did not like, and when I asked for details he said he had been told that ‘they’ wanted to decriminalize homosexuality. His claim was that this went against our culture, but I pointed out that it was a Victorian prejudice, and that homosexuality had been criminalized in British times (but not lesbianism because Queen Victoria had a limited imagination and could not imagine that such things could happen).

“The Kumaratunga government however could, for it criminalized lesbianism. This was part of its policy of equal opportunities for the sexes. In all fairness to the President, I think she wanted to decriminalize homosexuality, while strengthening penalties against child abuse. But she was not in control and when her Christian and Muslim ministers objected, she gave in and none of the ministers from religions with a greater historical sense of tolerance – and none of the Buddhist homosexuals, nor those in opposition then – objected. I think it was only the high principled Neelan Tiruchelvam who spoke up, but he was ignored.

“I was weak enough, when President Rajapaksa said he did not want to initiate this, to tell him to amend that clause and introduce the rest of the Bill, but he refused and said that, while he would not allow prosecutions, actual decriminalization could wait for the opposition to come into power,” said Professor Wijesingha.

“But it is not a question of there not being prosecutions. It is a question of intimidation of youngsters, the suppression of their nature and feelings, all to perpetuate an outdated British sense of prejudice based on some teachings of the monotheistic religions,” said professor Wijesingha adding that the wealthy generally get away with doing what they want, but will do nothing to help others – and even perpetuate myths.

“I can only hope that the Prime Minister will not delay the Bill of Rights, that Jayampathy will persuade him to expedite it without waiting for the next election to proceed, and that the SLFP will follow the tolerant traditions of its founder and its former leaders and allow the Bill to be incorporated in its entirety into the Constitution.

“I should add that removing discrimination and allowing adults to choose for themselves should be accompanied by strict laws with regard to child abuse (which we should note is much more common against girls despite the myths perpetuated by some activists). Exploitation is as bad as discrimination, and we must ensure protection for those who cannot protect themselves,” he said adding that it is vital to ensure that the forces of the law concentrate on such matters, instead of intimidating adults who are old enough to know what they want.

Consequently, while some still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder, the current research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviours are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, reflecting the official positions of the World Health Organization, American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.

1 Comment for “LGBTI Rights Secured”

  1. Rubert Vanderkoon

    If politicians are true to themselves and express their true opinion, we don-t have to go through this malarkey this way. The likes of Rajiva wijesinghe, Ranil Wickremasinghe and Mangala Samaraweera will first have to come out.

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