Sri Lankan government condemned for harassment of LGBT activists
Hosts of Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting 'must respect human rights for all'
The former head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth, Dr Purna Sen, has condemned the Sri Lankan government for unacceptable harassment of activists campaigning for human rights. NGOs working onLGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting there in November.
Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Dr. Sen, who is also chair of LGBT human rights charity Kaleidoscope, said it was "wholly unacceptable for the country preparing to host Commonwealth leaders in a few weeks time to try to silence the LGBT community and human rights defenders through threats and intimidation."
The Kaleidoscope Trust, based in London, has received reliable reports that activists have been threatened with arrest and organisations have been warned they could be closed down if they continue to advocate for human rights for all.
Dr. Sen, who was head of Human Rights at The Commonwealth from 2008 until 2011 added:
It is imperative that Sri Lanka as the CHOGM hosts must adhere to the principles underlying the Commonwealth and respect the right to active and safe democratic engagement by all human rights defenders. If this kind of harassment continues then both the Secretary General and the heads of government meeting in Colombo must be prepared to speak out publicly and condemn any infringement on the rights of LGBT people whether in Sri Lanka or anywhere else in the Commonwealth. The recently adopted Commonwealth Charter states it is an association ' devoted to improving the lives of all peoples of the Commonwealth' suggests an obligation on the organisation that will act against this sort of harassment.
The Kaleidoscope Trust has confirmed reports that Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department has issued verbal warnings to human rights activists not to speak about LGBT rights, the criminalisation of homosexuality or to hold workshops on the issues. The pressure increased after a recent visit to the country by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
Article 365A of the Sri Lankan Criminal Code criminalises same-sex sexual activity. Forty-two of the fifty-four member states of the Commonwealth continue to have laws that make homosexual activity a criminal offence.
Lance Price, Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, said:
The Commonwealth has consistently refused to address the issue of human rights for LGBT people and this Heads of Government meeting will be no different. More than half of all the countries in the world that still make being gay a crime are in the Commonwealth and this is stain on a organisation supposedly committed to equal rights for all.
Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council again called on the government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments to the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population. These latest reports are just the latest proof of their refusal to do so.