There’s hope Sri Lanka’s new reformist government could make a repeal of the nation’s repressive anti-gay laws possible.
Asia Pacific rights group Kaleidoscope Australia says the new Government under President Maithripala Sirisena brings an expectation that it will mark a radical change to the 10 year authoritarian rule of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Last year, in response to a shadow report that Kaleidoscope Australia, in collaboration with Sri Lankan group Equal Ground, submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Government for the very first time acknowledged that the non-discrimination provisions in the Sri Lankan Constitution protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Kaleidoscope Australia says although this was an important shift in tone, the Government was silent on revoking the laws criminalising both gay and lesbian sex in Sri Lanka.
“I was in Sri Lanka in 2013, at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and witnessed first-hand the repressive nature of the previous government,” says Dr Paula Gerber, President of Kaleidoscope Australia.
“Prospects for reform looked very bleak then. With a new reformist government in place I am feeling more optimistic that progress can be made in respecting the human rights and dignity of lgbtiq Sri Lankans.”
“However, we are confident they will definitely make moves to secure everybody’s civil liberties sooner rather than later. Already, people feel less threatened and we are now able to voice our opinions quite freely without fear.
“We have been working closely with many of the new Ministers and Deputy Ministers these past few years and we are confident that the time is close for an overall change in the Constitution and the Legislature which will allow lgbtiq citizens of this country to live free and fulfilling lives without fear and discrimination.
“The bottom line is we can work with this Government, we do not fear this Government, and we wholeheartedly support this Government. We are confident they will do the right thing.”
Equal Ground is pushing for the decriminalization of same sex sexual conduct between consenting adults, anti-discrimination laws, hate crimes legislation and the development of policies and programmes to protect lgbtiq people from vilification.