Dec 05, Colombo: The New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Sri Lankan government should ensure that the new constitution protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination, and allows legal challenges to preexisting discriminatory laws.
Presenting the testimonials from few LGBT persons, the HRW points out that at Sri Lanka's recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November at the UN Human Rights Council, the government accepted recommendations to end discrimination against LGBT people.
While the pledge is encouraging, officials have been sending mixed messages, the HRW says.
An interim report from the fundamental rights committee of the Constitutional Assembly in early 2017 included draft language prohibiting discrimination on gender, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity among other grounds.
The committee also proposed doing away with article 16 of the existing constitution, a bizarre "savings clause" that prohibits constitutional challenges to laws that predate the constitution, some dating to British colonial days. That would allow human rights activists to go to court, challenging sections 365 and 365A as unconstitutional.
However, the HRW says there's no guarantee that these proposed reforms will survive the constitutional reform process.
The Constitutional Assembly has since wavered on including sexual orientation and gender identity in the proposed non-discrimination clause, and it's uncertain whether removing article 16 will get past an anti-reform lobby.
The HRW says the Sri Lankan government should seek other pathways to protecting LGBT people, including by exercising leadership in mobilizing parliament to pass a bill to repeal sections 365 and 365A of the present constitution.
"Otherwise, the government bears responsibility for intolerable abuses against its citizens." the HRW says.
The full text of the HRW article