The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has written to the Minister of Justice, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, querying why he has failed to show support for MP Premnath Dolawatte’s Private Members Bill to amend sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code.
The Commission's formal communication, calls for the repeal or amendment of sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, which have long been utilised to criminalise consensual relationships, including same-sex relationships.
The Bill to amend the Penal Code was tabled in Parliament in April 2023. Despite facing criticism and constitutional challenges, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision in May 2023 and ruled in favour of the Bill.
The Court dismissed arguments regarding the sexual exploitation of children, erosion of the rule of law, potential increase in HIV/AIDS cases, and perceived conflicts with Buddhist and religious principles, labelling them as “absurd”.
The Court also went beyond a mere determination and emphasised that penalising consensual relations between adults based on archaic morals, undermines human dignity and rights conferred to citizens under Article 12(1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
In its letter, the Human Rights Commission has emphasised to the Justice Minister, Sri Lanka's obligation as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Sri Lankan Government’s own promises to protect the rights of LGBT+ citizens.
Hence, the Commission has encouraged the Minister of Justice to support and expedite the enactment of the Bill. The Second Reading of the Bill took place on December 13th last year.
The Human Rights Commission’s intervention is a crucial step towards ensuring equal rights and protections for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, to remain in line with Sri Lanka’s commitment to its own citizens.
The next steps will reveal how the Ministry of Justice responds to these recommendations to bring about comprehensive and much needed legislative change.
The Minister of Justice is no stranger to anti-human rights measures. During his time as head of the Press Complaints Commission, he called being a lesbian “sadistic” and held in support of the author of a newspaper article that advocated to release convicted rapists from Welikada Prison to rape lesbian women.
In his then decision, Rajapakshe held against the complainant (who was male) and fined him Rs. 2100, by saying that “The complainant, in any event, is not a female, who can participate in lesbian activities…He cannot be subject to any such rape as referred to in the article and therefore, he cannot be a victim of such violence."
The Justice Minister has also just finalised amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. In his submissions to Cabinet, the Minister had called to allow for Muslim girl children below 18 years to be married off and to maintain child brides.