In an unprecedented statement the Government of Sri Lanka informed the Experts Committee reviewing Sri Lanka for ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) that “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) is protected under Article 12 of the Sri Lankan Constitution.”
The ICCPR is monitored by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which reviews regular reports of States parties on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially one year after acceding to the Covenant and then whenever the Committee requests (usually every four years).
The Experts Committee had earlier requested the Government of Sri Lanka to respond to several questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity issues. “Please indicate the measures taken to protect persons from stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and indicate whether they are protected by the constitutional provisions on non-discrimination,” the committee had asked.
While not responding to the question on protection, the Sri Lankan government stated: “Article 12 of the Constitution recognizes non-discrimination based on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one of such grounds as a Fundamental Right. This measure protects persons from stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identities.”
Following up on this statement, during the review held on the 7th and 8th of October 2014 at the OHCHR in Geneva, the Government was asked to explain what it had done to decriminalize homosexuality and how does it intend to protect LGBTI persons in Sri Lanka?
In reply, Ms. Bimba Jayasinghe Thilakeratne, Additional Solicitor General with the Attorney General’s Department in Sri Lanka made the following observations: “Article 12.1 ensures equality for sexual orientation and gender identity. Article 12.2 Laws discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are unconstitutional, while Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal code do not target any particular group but is there to protect public morality.”
Even though Sri Lanka did not directly answer the questions posed, activists say that it is a positive response from the government. The Executive Director of EQUAL said, “We are extremely pleased with this outcome and applaud the government for clarifying the interpretations of the Constitution and the law regarding SOGI in Sri Lanka. While this may not rain sunshine for the LGBTIQ community just yet, there is now at least, a sense of hope things will start changing in Sri Lanka and that the LGBTIQ community will be able to hold their heads a bit higher as the days go by.”