Sri Lanka: End discrimination against LGBTI people

Sri Lanka’s authorities must end discrimination against LGBTI people, Amnesty International said today, as the human rights organization published a comic book recounting the struggles of LGBTI people in Sri Lanka.

Spectrum: Four Stories of Discrimination Faced by LGBTI People in Sri LankaFour Stories of Discrimination Faced by LGBTI People in Sri Lanka” is a comic book that tells four true stories of how LGBTI people in Sri Lanka have suffered discrimination and violence in their daily lives, from workplace bullying to police harassment.

“Being persecuted for sexual orientation or gender identity has no place in our world today, and yet, individuals in Sri Lanka continue to face discrimination, abuse and a complete lack of protection for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rehab Mahamoor, Research Assistant at Amnesty International.

Being persecuted for sexual orientation or gender identity has no place in our world today, and yet, individuals in Sri Lanka continue to face discrimination, abuse and a complete lack of protection for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity
Rehab Mahamoor

The stories that highlight the experiences of Manju, Samanali, Kiruthika and Thenu in the comic book show the alarming and various ways the police handle cases that involve LGBTI people, often treating them like criminals when they are the ones being victimized. Societal taboo has been punishing for LGBTI individuals when it comes to their jobs, homes and schools – compromising their ability to access services that are central to realizing their human rights.

“Individuals must not be discriminated on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but Sri Lanka has made little to no progress towards setting aside the laws that do. A safer environment for LGBTI people must be created before the situation in Sri Lanka deteriorates further. The laws that prevent that from happening must be repealed and protections that help uphold the rights of LGBTI people should be put in place without delay,” said Rehab Mahamoor.

In 1883, the British who had taken control of the island of Sri Lanka, passed the Penal Code, the main law which defines what is a crime in Sri Lanka. Section 365 and 365A prohibited “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and “gross indecency”. The Penal Code did not give a specific explanation of what these meant, but these vague and overly broad 136-year-old colonial laws are still being used to target LGBTI people in Sri Lanka today.

Artists Gimhani Galagedera, Madhri Samaranayake, Shenuka Corea and Akiel Surajdeen collaborated with Amnesty International to create Spectrum.

Background

In addition to Sections 365 and 365 A, Section 399 of the Penal Code bans “cheating by impersonation” which means pretending to be someone else or telling a person they are someone that they are not. This law has been used frequently against transgender people, to allege that they are “pretending” to be a different gender. 

Another regulation, the Vagrants Ordinance, a 178-year-old law has been used to disproportionately target LGBTI people, allowing the police to take them into custody and even put them in prison to extort or harass them. 

The Sri Lankan Constitution protects the Fundamental Right to Equality (Article 12). At the 2014 International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights review, Sri Lanka confirmed that Article 12 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this right is rarely protected in the case of LGBTI individuals and they continue to be harassed, marginalized and abused on the basis of their real or perceived gender identity and/or sexual orientation. 

During its third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review carried out in November 2017, Sri Lanka stated that the country “is in the process of taking measures to guarantee the right to non-discrimination, inter alia, on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity”. It particularly focused on the commitment to reform the Penal Code. To date however, there have been no steps taken towards reform.