Case Studies

Sri Lanka: taking a step towards equal rights

June 2016 | Sri Lanka

LGBT people living in Sri Lanka face many social and legal challenges. Homosexuality remains criminalised under a 160-year-old empire-wide penal code and although there have been no recorded prosecutions of the LGBT community, they continue to face harassment and persecution by society and law enforcement agencies.

Despite these challenges, the LGBT community has gradually become more visible and vocal in their demand for equality and justice on the island in recent times. Last week, Public Representations Committee for Constitutional Reform appointed by the Sri Lankan government presented their final proposals for constitutional change that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, amongst other protected characteristics to the equality provisions of Sri Lanka’s proposed new constitution.

The proposals guarantee equality and non-discrimination on all aspects, including employment, privacy, marriage and family. The proposals are unprecedented as they are based on the submissions of Sri Lankans across the island, in an internationally acclaimed reform process.

iProbono’s team in Sri Lanka, led by Artiha Wickramasinghe – iProbono’s Sri Lanka Country Representative – helped make submissions in favour of LGBT equality.

Below are the proposed changes submitted to the government for the equality provisions for LGBT and women’s rights:

  • Every citizen is guaranteed the right to equality and its enforcement.
  • No person or group shall be discriminated against, on the ground of race, religion, caste, marital status, maternity, age, language, mental or physical disability, pregnancy, civil status, widowhood, social origin, sexual orientation, or sexual and gender identities.
  • In recognition of past marginalisation and discrimination, the State shall undertake specific measures necessary to achieve equality for marginalised and discriminated groups such as women, people with disabilities, the poor, illiterate and members of oppressed caste groups or any other specially identified group. Such measures shall not be considered discrimination within the provisions of this Constitution.
  • Laws, cultures, customs, or traditions that are against the dignity, welfare, or interest of women or those that undermine their status are prohibited.
  • Men and women shall have equal rights. The Constitution shall ensure the equality of women, both in law and in practice, most particularly in the family, in education, in health, in shelter, in the ownership of property, in livelihoods, in employment, in the workplace and in politics.

Below are the provisions submitted to the government on Right to Privacy and Married Life:

  • Every person has the right to privacy, the right to be protected from arbitrary interference with family life, the inviolability of the home, correspondence and communication and shall not be subjected to unlawful attacks on such person’s honour and reputation.
  • The right to privacy as a fundamental right should also be specified along with its implications for persons with disabilities. This should include protection from interference and surveillance of medical and other records, correspondence and any other type of otherwise private communication, including in the home and family as well as in the electoral process.
  • All persons of full age without limitation due to race, nationality or religion, gender identity or gender and sexual orientation have the right to marry and to find a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and its dissolution.

We hope that this is the first of many steps in the future towards building a more inclusive and just society for the LGBT community in Sri Lanka.

Abhimanyu Shankhdhar – Senior Communications and Advocacy Manager, iProbono

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