ap-sri-lanka-world-aids-day-4_3Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka has, for the first time ever, acknowledged the non-discrimination provisions in its constitution protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The statement came in responses from the Sri Lankan Government to recommendations for reform during the country’s review by the UN Human Rights Committee.

Executive Director of Sri Lankan lgbti group Equal Ground, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, says it’s a positive outcome which takes the sting out of anti-gay laws in the country’s Penal Code.

“This is the first time that the Government has made statements of this sort and we will be sure to follow up with them at the first opportunity.”

Equal Ground worked with Kaleidoscope Australia, a group committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of lgbti people in the Asia Pacific region, on a shadow report on lgbti rights which was submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee.

“We congratulate the Sri Lankan Government for acknowledging that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is unconstitutional,” Kaleidoscope Australia President Dr Paula Gerber says.

“While it is disappointing that the Sri Lankan Government did not address the ongoing criminalisation of homosexual conduct (both men and women), the official response nevertheless marks a significant change in tone, which will hopefully in turn lead to further reform.” adds:

Same-sex relations is illegal and punishable with jail time in Sri Lanka which has retained the British colonial era anti-gay law even after independence. The gay and lesbian community in Sri Lanka has with little effect been demanding a repeal of the anti-gay law and to draw public attention to their rights.

“Homosexuality is illegal” and that under Section 365A of the country’s penal code, “homosexual acts are punishable by a jail term of up to ten years.” In 1995, the law was amended to be “gender-neutral,” resulting in the “criminalization of both male and female homosexual activity.”

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have often cited human rights organizations reporting how police used that law to harass, extort money or sexual favors from, and assault gay men in Colombo and other areas.

Homophobia in Sri Lanka is said to be “rampant” and members of the LGBT community “face blackmail, may be forced to leave their homes, and may lose their jobs,” one such report said adding that “stigma associated with homosexuality prevents many from living openly.”

Equal Ground Sri Lanka, a center for international human rights, has confirmed that “LGBT individuals in the country are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention and to abuse and violence at the hands of the police.”