Police officers (40.85%), medical sector workers (26.81%) are the highest perpetrators of human rights violations of the LGBTQ community in Sri Lanka according to a report published by ” Bridge to Equality”.
Local report advocates for social and legal recognition and support through effective responses to rights’ violations
While various forms of efforts are underway to ensure the rights of Sri Lanka’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and questioning (LGBTQI+) community, it is imperative to identify effective responses to human rights violations faced by the community as a key element of the overall fight for rights. While it will provide a great deal of support to the community, who remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, it will also support the ongoing activities aimed at gaining legal and social recognition for the community.
As per a recent report on human rights violations faced by this community titled “Human Rights Violations Faced by the LGBTQ People in Sri Lanka: August 2021-March 2023” and issued by Bridge to Equality, although a large number of cases have already been reported to the authorities, the fear of further discrimination, including from families, and the fear of their sexual orientation or gender identity being revealed hold many LGBTQI+ persons back from seeking the assistance of the authorities. The report added that in addition to encouraging victims to seek litigation, legal reforms, especially the repeal of Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, and educating LGBTQI+ individuals about their rights are key measures that require more attention and support.
Human rights violations against LGBTQI+ persons
The report was based on data gathered with regard to 235 human rights violations faced by LGBTQI+ persons, which had been collected throughout two years. The analysis of the data focuses on the nature, victims, prevalence and perpetrators of human rights violations.
Based on the testimonies of the victims of human rights violations, the report had found that most of them were not too keen to file complaints or seek the authorities’ support due to various reasons including the fear of being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity or further oppression, the fear of family members or employers finding out about their gender identity or sexual orientation in the event of pressing charges, the pressure to avoid being ridiculed by their relatives, and the great deal of procedural inconveniences that involve legal actions which may not even result in any favourable outcome. As per the report, all reported human rights violations pertained to Article 12 of the Constitution on equality and equal protection of the law and non-discrimination, and in some cases, they pertained to certain other forms of violations as well. Around 56% of the cases pertained to Article 11 of the Constitution (freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), 6% of the cases to Article 13 of the Constitution (freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment), and 0.5% of the cases to Article 14A of the Constitution (right of access to information).
The majority of the victims had been reported in the Gampaha District. Most victims were in the 21-30 age group, while most victims identified as transwomen. The sexual orientation of most of the victims was heterosexual, although all victims that identified as such were transmen and transwomen, as per the report. Most of the victims were Sinhalese. While the majority of the victims were Advanced Level qualified persons, the majority of the victims were from low-income groups whose income ranges from Rs. 20,000-40,000 per month.
The report added that the perpetrators of the analysed human rights violations included those who were identified as Police officers (40.85%), medical sector workers (26.81%), Grama Niladharis and officers of Municipal Councils (9.36%), officials of Divisional Secretariats (3.83%), Army personnel (3.4%), public school staff (2.13%), the Registrar General’s Department’s officials (2.13%), Railway station staff (1.28%), vocational training authorities (0.85%), Examinations Department officials (0.85%), public bus staff (0.85%), Attorney General’s Department officials (0.85%), Child and Women’s Bureau officials (0.43%), military Police officials (0.43%), the Ceylon Fishery Harbours Corporation officials (0.43%), Labour Department officials (0.43%), Provincial Councils’ officials (0.43%), and Navy personnel (0.43%).
In its conclusion, the report said: “The analysis shows that some LGBTQI+ persons are reluctant to go to the authorities (such as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka [HRCSL] or the Police) due to existing Penal laws and various social stigmas that continue to exist in society. These stigmas may include inaccurate perceptions that LGBTQI+ persons are psychologically unwell or that it is a ‘trend’ or ‘lifestyle’ that conflicts with the Sri Lankan culture.”
Future steps related to awareness, policies, and support networks
The report presented a number of recommendations to safeguard the rights and ensure the just and equitable treatment of the LGBTQI+ community.
Under the recommendations directed to the Government, it said that some of the perpetrators of human rights violations against LGBTQI+ students, including discrimination and bullying in educational institutions, are teachers and lecturers of public and private educational institutions, and therefore recommended that educational institutions develop strong anti-bullying policies to safeguard LGBTQI+ students. Furthermore, they were recommended to implement sensitising programmes with students and teachers on issues regarding gender identity, sex education, sexual and reproductive health rights, and sexual orientation, which the report said will help build a safe space for children who are struggling with their gender or sexual identity to open up about their issues and seek necessary guidance and will also enable teachers to be more empathetic and understanding.
Regarding sharing the experiences and hardships of LGBTQI+ persons with public officials, including public medical officers, to sensitise them regarding this community’s problems, it said: “Based on the experiences shared by the victims, it is quite apparent that the public and Government officials, who are sometimes the perpetrators of these violations, lack empathy, and while it is vital to educate them about gender identity and sexual orientation, it is equally important to realise that an officer will act on his/her will if he/she lacks empathy towards his/her peers. Therefore, education programmes designed for public officials and law enforcement personnel should include education on human values such as non-violence and the right conduct.”
Moreover, the report recommended that the HRCSL maintains a log of the key violations, key perpetrators, and the nature of victims in reference to LGBTQI+ individuals: “A statistical record of the key violations, the key perpetrators and the nature of the victims amongst the cases submitted to the HRCSL will assist civil society organisations to reach out to the grassroots and provide support to address the striking issues amongst LGBTQI+ individuals. This will also help civil societies, both local and international, to get a broad idea of the socio-economic status of the community in Sri Lanka. This therefore will become a tool in the reform and development of community-based activities in the future.”
The Police and military are also among the groups for whom the report presented recommendations. In this regard, it recommended that sexuality and gender training should be included into training sessions for Police officers and members of the armed forces. This is in a context where 40.85% of the perpetrators of human rights violations against LGBTQI+ persons are the Police, while 3.40% are the Army and 0.43% are the Navy. The report stressed that therefore, simply having laws and policies in place is not adequate and that it is important to uphold them. To do this, it was recommended that the law enforcement authorities be made aware of these laws and policy decisions and the intricacies of gender and sexual identity. The report noted that many victims had revealed that Police officers were unaware of the gender identification certificate (a certificate provided by a qualified consultant psychiatrist certifying the gender identity of a person who identifies as a transgender and is in the process of transitioning to their desired sex), which it noted demonstrates a flaw in the system.
Recommending also to share experiences and hardships of LGBTQI+ persons with Police officers and members of the military in order to sensitise them regarding the community’s problems, the report explained: “Based on the experiences shared by the victims, it is quite apparent that the Police and members of the military, specifically the Army and the Navy, lack empathy, and have committed violations against the victims due to certain prejudices they hold regarding members of the LGBTQI+ community. While it is vital to educate them about gender identity and sexual orientation, it is equally important to realise that an officer will act on his/her will if he/she lacks empathy towards his/her peers. Therefore, education programmes designed for Police officers and the military should include education on human values such as non-violence and the right conduct.”
In addition, recommendations were also issued for civil society organisations. Among those recommendations were, creating social media awareness on LGBTQI+ helplines, creating a LGBTQI+ help application (app), and to initiate a support network between parents, families, and friends of LGBTQI+ individuals.
Full report can be accesed here.