The Sri Lankan government announced on February 9 that they would support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in the country. The announcement came after receiving recommendations from other UN member states during the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The recent announcement from Sri Lanka's Minister of Foreign Affairs that the government will decriminalise same-sex relationships is welcome news. This is an essential and positive step to ensuring that all LGBT+ Sri Lankans can lead free, safe, and equal lives. pic.twitter.com/nI3fA12Yzx
— Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) (@WFD_Democracy) February 13, 2023
“There is a Private Member Bill initiated by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government MP and Attorney Premnath C. Dolawatte.” Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry told Sri Lankan newspaper the Daily Morning. “The government will support its position of decriminalizing same-sex relationships. We are, however, not legalizing same-sex marriages. But, we would decriminalize it. I think that there is a lot of consensus for that, so let that come to Parliament.”
The country’s Deputy Solicitor General, Nerin Pulle, also pledged to amend Sri Lanka’s colonial-era penal code.
“One development is that the government is committed to reforming the Penal Code to ensure that all offenses contained in the Code are in compliance with international human rights standards,” Pulle said in response to the report, adding that the government is committed to making sure that no provision in the said law would be discriminately applied to the LGBTQIA+ community.
During the Universal Periodic Review, Sri Lanka received seven recommendations from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Norway regarding LGBTQIA+ rights. These recommendations include decriminalizing homosexuality, which is currently punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Sri Lanka’s current penal code.
Aside from recommendations during the UPR, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also released a decision last March stating that Sri Lanka’s laws violated the rights of Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground, a leading LGBTQIA+ rights group in Sri Lanka.
Last year, Dolawatte handed over the proposed bill to decriminalize consensual same-sex relations in the country to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. During a meeting with USAID administrator Samantha Power last September, Wickremesinghe said he wouldn’t oppose Dolawatte’s bill.
Flamer-Caldera welcomed the government’s announcement: “We commend our government’s commitment to reforming the Penal Code and amending the Constitution to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds of non-discrimination.”
She told the Washington Blade that she was cautiously optimistic regarding the proposal, adding: “It’s been more than 19 years that our organization has been advocating for decriminalization, and it’s good to see the work bearing fruit, finally. But it’s still a long road ahead.”
While it is heartening to see that this bill has the government’s support, it is disappointing that it falls short of legalization, and we know that persecution and stigma persist for the LGBTQI+ community in Sri Lanka.
— Rainbow Railroad (@RainbowRailroad) February 13, 2023
First implemented in 1883, Sections 365 and 365A of Sri Lanka’s Penal Code criminalize same-sex relations. Ex-British colonies such as India and Singapore have made significant changes to repeal colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality in recent years.