Sri Lanka’s criminalization law violates the rights of lesbian activists

UNITED NATIONS — A UN committee has found that a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity in Sri Lanka has violated the rights of a lesbian activist.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its decision on Wednesday in the case of Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground, a Sri Lankan LGBTQ+ rights group.

The decision notes that Flamer-Caldera in 1997 “found that same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults was a criminal offense under Section 365A of the Penal Code (Sri Lanka) 1883”. The decision further states that Flamer-Caldera has been “frequently threatened and abused by the media and the public” since she co-founded a support group for lesbian and bisexual women in 1999.

Flamer-Caldera founded Equal Ground in 2004.

“She faced ongoing challenges leading the organization,” the decision read.

The decision notes that the Women and Children Bureau of the Sri Lankan Police in December 2012 and January 2013 “made presentations claiming that child abuse was increasing mainly due to the ‘growing homosexual culture'”.

“The author’s photo was shown along with her name and position with Equal Ground, claiming that she and her organization were responsible for spreading homosexuality, implying that they were also responsible for the spread of paedophilia,” the decision noted. “She did not complain to the police for fear of being arrested. The Criminal Investigations Department (of the Sri Lankan Police) placed her and Equal Ground under surveillance, which forced her to move the organization’s material to a safe place, as the department had considered everything homosexual material such as pornography, which could lead to arrest.

The ruling further notes that the Criminal Investigations Department in July 2013 raided an organization that Equal Ground works with “on the basis of the allegation that it was propagating homosexuality”. In the spring of 2018, a man “verbally assaulted” her and “threatened” her “with violence”.

“The criminalization of same-sex sexual activity means that the discrimination, violence and harassment faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in Sri Lanka continues with impunity,” it read. in the decision. “Community members are not protected from police harassment. The law has changed the way he lives and conducts himself in public and in private. She is constantly afraid of being arrested and keeps her door locked and the curtains drawn when she is home with her girlfriend.

Flamer-Caldera presented her case under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Human Dignity Trust, a London-based NGO that challenges criminalization laws around the world, represented Flamer-Caldera.

“The committee notes that the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between women in Sri Lanka means that the perpetrator (Flamer-Caldera) has had difficulty finding a partner, has to conceal his relationship and runs the risk of being sought and prosecuted in this context,” he notes. “The committee therefore concludes that the State party has violated the author’s rights under article 16 of the convention.”

Flamer-Caldera welcomed the decision on Thursday.

“This decision will impact millions of lesbian and bisexual women around the world,” she told the Washington Blade. “I am happy and proud to have played such a central role in this process.”

Sri Lanka is one of more than 70 countries in the world where consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The UK implemented many of these laws in Commonwealth countries when it colonized them.

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May said in 2018 that she “deeply” regretted these colonial-era criminalization laws.

The Supreme Court of India issued a ruling in 2018 that decriminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi said in January that his government would respect a ruling that decriminalizes homosexuality in the former British colony. Singapore’s Court of Appeal last month dismissed a challenge to the city-state’s buggery law.

Flamer-Caldera told The Blade that the Sri Lankan government has not responded to the ruling.

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