20 May, 2022

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UN Body Condemns Sri Lanka’s Criminalization Of Same-Sex Acts: Landmark Case Highlights ‘Sodomy’ Law’s Impact On Women

By Kyle Knight –

In a major judgment issued this week, a United Nations treaty body called on Sri Lanka’s government to repeal its law criminalizing adult, consensual same-sex conduct – including between women.

Photo via twitter @jvin_tootu

The case was brought under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, an LGBT rights activist who faced harassment and discrimination for her sexual orientation and human rights advocacy on behalf of sexual and gender minorities.

The judgment by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concerned Sri Lanka’s Penal Code, a relic of British colonial rule that dates to 1883. Section 365 punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with up to 10 years in prison and a fine. Section 365A punishes “any act of gross indecency” with up to two years in prison and a fine.

These provisions are widely understood to criminalize consensual sex between same-sex partners. Section 365A originally criminalized same-sex relations between men; however, the provision was amended in 1995 after the law was criticized for being discriminatory on the basis of sex, to include same-sex relations between women.

Many countries only criminalize same-sex relations between men, and at least 38 countries criminalize same-sex conduct regardless of sex or expressly criminalize sexual conduct between women. At least 10 countries have, since 1986, explicitly enacted laws that criminalize sex between women as well as men, sometimes perversely framing this as a gesture toward equality – such as in the case of Sri Lanka.

Around the world, laws that criminalize same-sex relations are being repealed as courts and governments recognize they are discriminatory and harmful – including the Indian Supreme Court striking down penal code section 377 in 2018.

In a 2016 report, Human Rights Watch documented that Sri Lanka’s penal code casts a shadow over LGBT people’s lives, impacting their ability to access health care and housing, and creates pressure to conceal and conform their identities.

The CEDAW committee judgment noted that “the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between women in Sri Lanka has meant that [Flamer-Caldera] has had difficulties with finding a partner, has to hide her relations and runs the risk of being investigated and prosecuted in this context.”

With this call for change from the CEDAW committee, Sri Lanka should urgently repeal its outdated and discriminatory law.

*Senior Researcher, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program. Courtesy HRW

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Not sure I understand the headline with emphasis on – “same-sex acts”. Was it meant to be “same-sex relationships”? So must we refer to “heterosexual acts” instead of heterosexual relationships? Why the emphasis on “acts”? Can such “acts” be housework together, cooking together, relaxing together? Or in SL is it only the “act” that’s important? The man and woman “act” that produces children and has to be curtailed if the country is not to be engulfed by its population. We need to grow up. It is 2022.

  • 6
    1

    Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is a close friend of mine. In other words we have a very close and long relationship over many years. But there are no “acts” between us. I am a male heterosexual. She is entitled to be whatever she wishes to be. That will never be a problem.

  • 2
    1

    It has been said that many hetro ladies have complained that RFC has hit on them. This can be interpreted as sexual harassment? Many hetro males and females have been stalked by homosexuals and lesbians. Some of us here may have experienced this. It may traumatise some and some may laugh it off. I feel the most discriminated people are the transgender community and not the lesbians and gays. In the 2020 study by Equal Ground 12% of our pop identify as lgbtq and of this a whopping 8% are bisexual, 1% as transgender, 2% as other and 0.5% each only as gay and lesbian. It is well known that bisexuals and transgender people face hostility from their own lgbtq community.
    I dont think lesbians face any significant discrimination. The homosexuals that do may be the effeminate type where people including the police poke fun at and harass. Having said this I fully respect and accept that anybody has the right to his or her preferred sexual orientation and should never be discriminated against.

  • 0
    6

    ……”Sri Lanka should urgently repeal its outdated and discriminatory law.”
    Huh! How dare the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” call our culture outdated? And, what right does this Convention have to dictate terms to an independent and sovereign country to ‘modernize’ its culture?
    I remember writing on the same subject extensively when the previous slave government was in power, too.
    Unlike in western cultures, the concept of sexual orientation is not a part of our culture. Our society accepts that the subject matter is a personal issue. People are free to choose who should be in their lives, but forcing society to accept their personal choices is a violation of other people’s right to bring up their children in a traditional society.
    Our society is a conventional family-based society where our values, traditions and customs are based on natural law. We believe that traditional marriage and reproduction are binding factors for our generational succession.
    When will the UN and the ‘collective-West’ (I borrowed the word from President Putin) learn to RESPECT CULTURES OF OTHER NATIONS? STOP your war against the Sinhalese culture! You can never win.

    • 3
      0

      Champa,
      “Our society is a conventional family-based society where our values, traditions and customs are based on natural law.”
      Perhaps you should tell that to the 15 year old who was raped by a Buddhist monk among others, not so long ago. Of course Buddhist monks are so respected that even if they spend time in jail in London for raping minors, they are welcomed back as heroes here. Vchampa, why don’t you start a campaign to reform British law so that “ape hamuduruwos” can do what they like in UK?

  • 4
    1

    Traditionally, it was believed that there were only two sexes- males and females and sexual intercourse ends with procreation. But later only, it was realized there is a third sex-you call it transgender or whatever.
    Let it be made clear that not only consensual sex between same sex partners – homosexual or lesbians. Let it be made more general that is consensual sex between any two or more humans.

    Let the legal interpretation be made broader and let the legal and social relationship carry that enlightened interpretation.

  • 0
    2

    Medically there are only 2 Genders. Emotionally now there are upto 105 and increasing.

    How do you make a law without defining the Gender?

    Whom should we apply this law for? How do you determine the emotions at a particular time in the past? Will that emotions last?

    Emotional status changes but not physical reality even after surgery.

    These changes are good to the Medical industry and Pharmaceutical.

    What’s the solution? Should we support big pharma and dilute the meaning of a father and a mother? Should we dilute the religious customs? Should we confuce the mind of the children by telling them you are neither a man or a woman? Should we tell them to explore and find out your gender?

    In my view we should not dictate what happens behind closed doors. Neither should we allow them to push their sexual appetites and beliefs on us.

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