Feb 18, Colombo: Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a global human rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality says pressure is mounting on Sri Lanka to remove anti-LGBTQ laws as the country negotiates a preferential trade deal with the European Union.
According to HRC, signing such trade agreement with the EU generally requires compliance with certain human rights conditions, such as removing laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people. However, Sri Lankan LGBTQ activists are concerned that the EU has waived this requirement following objections by the Sri Lankan government.
Sri Lanka is one of 72 countries around the world that criminalize same-sex acts, the HRC says.
'All Out' has published a petition from Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, head of Sri Lanka's LGBTQ rights organization, Equal Ground, calling on the European Parliament to insist that Sri Lanka scrap anti-LGBTQ laws before the trade deal is signed. The petition had so far collected 35,000 signatures.
The European Union has emphasized that implementation of 27 international conventions by the Sri Lankan government was the only criteria for the European Commission to recommend restoring the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) tariff concession to Sri Lanka. The international conventions do not include the rights of the LGBTQ people.
According to HRC, there are three specific discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community in Sri Lanka. Section 365 (against the order of nature) criminalizes same-sex activity by up to 10 years imprisonment, Section 365 A (gross indecency) can put people convicted of same-sex acts behind bars for two to 20 years, and Section 399 is used by police to harass transgender and gender non-conforming people on grounds of impersonation.
"While these laws are applied infrequently, they nevertheless undermine the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ Sri Lankans and give carte blanche to authorities to violate the rights of LGBTQ individuals with impunity," the right organization says.
HRC also mentions that activists in Sri Lanka have also faced other challenges in recent years. The 12th Colombo Pride event in 2016 received online threats from radical groups. They also faced difficulties in obtaining permission from Colombo municipality to celebrate an International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia event last year.