At the end of the 19th Century the British Empire controlled one fifth of the world. Under their reigns they introduced laws that to date criminalize same-sex conduct in thirty six of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth, introducing centuries of Victorian values perpetuating homophobia that has been assimilated in to native cultures as their own values.
However, during the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting the British Prime Minister, Theresa May said that the UK Government ‘deeply regretted’ the anti-gay laws that were established by the British during the colonial era. The damage caused by these outdated laws and the stigma and discrimination it perpetuates may never be undone, however the expression of ‘deep regret’ is a necessary step in the hopes of starting conversations for countries willing to abolish these heinous laws and begin to mend the damage it has done for over a hundred and thirty-five years.
"By signing the Commonwealth Charter, Sri Lanka has committed to these values of equality and respect of all its’ citizens, which includes the LGBTIQ community"
Being a part of the Commonwealth comes with the responsibility of upholding the Commonwealth values that are an integral part of what the Commonwealth community stands for. By signing the Commonwealth Charter, Sri Lanka has committed to these values of equality and respect of all its’ citizens, which includes the LGBTIQ community. To be a part of the Commonwealth is to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding of our diverse communities. By understanding that this diversity adds to the advancement of our country rather than its downfall and by showing that all our citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, we could lead the way for more countries to follow in our footsteps. Sri Lanka can be doing so much more to make sure all of its’ citizens are protected from discrimination. Unfortunately, dropping decriminalization from the National Human Rights action plan in January of 2017 is not the kind of action that instills confidence in the government that it stands for good governance and democracy and the protection of all its citizens sans none.
As the chair of the Commonwealth Equality Network and the Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND, I believe that all Sri Lankans should be afforded the freedom to live their lives without fear of oppression, violence or discrimination. This includes those who are targeted as a result of their sexual orientation, a group conspicuously missing from the National Human Rights Action Plan.
Although it is commendable that the government has made certain strides towards the rights of its’ citizens, especially concerning Transgender persons, it is discouraging that it failed to exclude discrimination spawned by the Penal Code of 1883 that targets consensual same sex activities, failing to recognize Sexual Orientation as a basis for protection against discrimination. Despite the countless recommendations received by the UN, over the years and as recently as November 2017, the Sri Lankan government has neglected to acknowledge the LGBTIQ community as a marginalized group that needs protection and deserves the right to a free life, devoid of criminalisation and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Belize, Seychelles and Trinidad and Tobago serve as examples of progressive governments, who most recently, decriminalized homosexuality in their countries. But Sri Lanka still fails to uphold the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Commonwealth Charter whereby all persons are born equal and will be treated equally and with dignity, free of discrimination.
"I feel, that Sri Lanka chooses to ignore all the contributions LGBTIQ persons have made over the years to our country whether in the Arts, Sciences, also in the Armed Forces and Law enforcement"
It is a bit hypocritical I feel, that Sri Lanka chooses to ignore all the contributions LGBTIQ persons have made over the years to our country whether in the Arts, the Sciences, in all manner of ways, including the Armed Forces and Law enforcement. LGBTIQ persons who serve and have served in the armed forces and in law enforcement are expected to give their lives to protect our country - and have done so during our prolonged civil war - but are unable to live and serve freely as LGBTIQ citizens of this country, are not given the respect and support they so well deserve. The inability of this country and the successive governments that run it, to acknowledge, accept and safeguard its LGBTIQ citizens, no matter how much they have contributed to the betterment of our country, is pathetic and archaic. Hundreds and thousands of LGBTIQ persons flee this country yearly, take refuge in other countries,and give their knowledge, creativity, service and support for the betterment of their adopted country. We as a nation, are poorer for it.
As a member of the Commonwealth therefore, it is important that the Sri Lankan government commits to the commonwealth values it has signed on to. As Teresa May said at the Commonwealth Joint Forum Plenary at CHOGM on April 17, 2018;
“As a family of nations, we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions. But we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality, a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter…nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love.”