A U.N. committee has found a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity in Sri Lanka has violated a lesbian activist’s rights.
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on Wednesday published its decision in the case of Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground, a Sri Lankan LGBTQ rights group.
The decision notes Flamer-Caldera in 1997 “discovered that same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults was a criminal offense under section 365A of the (Sri Lanka) Penal Code of 1883.” The decision further indicates Flamer-Caldera has been “threatened frequently and has faced abuse from the media and the public” since she co-founded a support group for lesbian and bisexual women in 1999.
Flamer-Caldera in 2004 founded Equal Ground.
“She has faced continual challenges running the organization,” reads the decision.
The decision notes the Sri Lanka Police’s Women and Children’s Bureau in December 2012 and January 2013 “made presentations asserting that child abuse was increasing mostly due to the ‘growing homosexual culture.’”
“The author’s picture was shown together with her name and position with Equal Ground, claiming that she and her organization were responsible for spreading homosexuality, implying that they were also responsible for spreading pedophilia,” notes the decision. “She did not complain to the police out of fear of being arrested. The (Sri Lanka Police’s) Criminal Investigation Department has placed her and Equal Ground under surveillance, which forced her to move the organization’s materials to a secure location, as the department had deemed any homosexual material to be pornography, which could provoke arrest.”
The decision further notes the Criminal Investigation Department in July 2013 raided an organization with which Equal Ground works “on the basis of the allegation that it was ‘spreading homosexuality.’” Flamer-Caldera in the complaint she filed with the committee also said a delivery man in the spring of 2018 “verbally abused” her and “threatened” her “with violence.”
“The criminalization of same-sex sexual activity has meant that the discrimination, violence and harassment faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in Sri Lanka continue with impunity,” reads the decision. “Members of the community are not protected against police harassment. The law has altered how she lives and conducts herself in public and private. She has a constant fear of arrest and keeps her door locked and curtains drawn when she is at home with her girlfriend.”
Flamer-Caldera presented her case under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Human Dignity Trust, a London-based NGO that challenges criminalization laws around the world, represented Flamer-Caldera.
“The committee notes that the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between women in Sri Lanka has meant that the author (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,” it notes. “The committee therefore finds that the state party has breached the author’s rights under Article 16 of the convention.”
Flamer-Caldera on Thursday welcomed the decision.
“This decision will have an impact on millions of lesbian and bisexual women around the globe,” she told the Washington Blade. “I am happy and proud to have played such a pivotal role in this process.”
Sri Lanka is one of more than 70 countries around the world in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The U.K. implemented many of these laws in Commonwealth countries when it colonized them.
Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets these colonial-era criminalization laws.
The India Supreme Court in 2018 issued a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi in January said his government would abide by a ruling that decriminalized homosexuality in the former British colony. The Singapore Court of Appeal last month dismissed a challenge to the city-state’s sodomy law.
Flamer-Caldera told the Blade the Sri Lankan government has not responded to the ruling.