HRCSL urges Justice Minister’s support for Penal Code reform decriminalising same-sex conduct in line with Supreme Court determination
January 08, Colombo (LNW): The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has written to Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, questioning his lack of support for SLPP MP Premnath Dolawatte’s Private Members Bill aimed at amending sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code.
The Commission’s communication advocates for the repeal or amendment of these sections, which have historically been employed to criminalise consensual relationships, including same-sex relationships.
The Commission’s in a formal communication in 2023 called for the repeal or amendment of sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, which have long been utilised to criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relationships.
The Bill proposing amendments to the Penal Code was presented in Parliament in April 2023. Despite facing criticism and constitutional challenges, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in May 2023, ruling in favour of the Bill and asserting that consensual same-sex sexual relations between adults are in fact constitutional and any move for decriminalisation can be passed into law with a simple majority in Parliament.
It is noteworthy that the MP’s bill was challenged by a group of concerned parties advocating for the very political stream in which Dolawatta serves as a member.
The Court dismissed arguments related to sexual exploitation of children, erosion of the rule of law, potential increase in HIV/AIDS cases, and perceived conflicts with religious principles, deeming them as “absurd.” The Court emphasised that penalising consensual relations between adults based on outdated morals undermines human dignity and the rights conferred under Article 12(1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
In its letter to the Justice Minister, the HRCSL underscored Sri Lanka’s obligation as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the government’s commitment to safeguard the rights of citizens of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).
The Commission urged the Minister to actively support and expedite the enactment of the Bill, which underwent its Second Reading on December 13th of the previous year.
This intervention by the Human Rights Commission is a pivotal step toward ensuring equal rights and protections for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, aligning with Sri Lanka’s commitment to its citizens.
The response from the Ministry of Justice to these recommendations will determine the direction of comprehensive and much-needed legislative change, activists pointed out.
Rajapakshe faced criticism for previous anti-human rights stances, including derogatory comments about lesbians being “sadistic” (Sri Lanka Press Council, Judgment to Complaint no S2/99/2096, 2000) during his tenure as head of the Press Complaints Commission in 2000, and hateful comments about gay people being “mentally ill” in response to a similar resolution pivoted in 2017 in line with the then GSP+ concession offered by the European Union.
His recent amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, allowing for the marriage of Muslim girls below 18, have also drawn scrutiny.