What’s happening in Sri Lanka?
It is illegal to be gay in Sri Lanka.
The history of criminalisation of homosexuality in Sri Lanka is a hangover from the colonial era. The British Empire established a foothold on Sri Lanka in 1796, completing the invasion in 1815 when it took full control of the island. The British controlled Sri Lanka until 1948, when Independence was declared.
The criminal law of Sri Lanka prohibits anyone from engaging in ‘gross indecency’, however exactly what constitutes gross indecency is not defined.
In 2013, Equal Ground – an LGBTQ advocacy group in Sri Lanka – produced a report for submission to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva. In that report they claimed that the gross indecency provisions of the Sri Lankan penal code were used to specifically target same-sex intercourse between men. Equal Ground also claimed that LGBTQ people in Sri Lanka are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as abuse and violence at the hands of the police.
According to Equal Ground, while arrests under the gross indecency provisions don’t result in convictions or penalties, arrests result in bribery, blackmail, extortion, violence, or coerced sexual favours.
In November 2017, the Deputy Solicitor General stated that the government would move to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity. The law has also been declared unenforceable by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka – this establishes a precedent in case law. However, there appears to be no appetite from the Sri Lankan government to reform the relevant legislation. LGBTQ people remain excluded from serving in the Sri Lankan military and there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
While the legal position remains unclear, the socially conservative nature of Sri Lankan society contributes to creating an environment in which LGBTQ people remain particularly vulnerable.