CHOGM: Yes or No?

November 12, 2013 in General

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is in Sri Lanka this year, and New Zealand’s LGBT communities have a problem with this, as indeed, do many other members of New Zealand’s political class.

We aren’t the only ones appalled at Sri Lanka’s human rights/LGBT rights record. Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Indian Prime Minister Singh are boycotting the conference because of the venue this year, and our own New Zealand Green List MP (and out lesbian) Jan Logie was briefly arrested and imprisoned along with an Australian Green Senator while investigating human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Labour leader David Cunliffe believes that New Zealand should attend CHOGM, but that Prime Minister Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully should speak up against Sri Lanka’s human rights and civil liberties abuses, unresolved war crime concerns from its civil war and other concerns. Rainbow Wellington has endorsed an excellent UK Kaliedoscope Trust  LGBT rights overview of Commonwealth LGBT policies, including those of Sri Lanka.

What does it have to say? It demands that  member governmentrs repeal any legislation which criminalises same-sex sexual activity;  put in place an immediate moratorium on the enforcement of any existing laws that criminalise homosexuality or lesbianism, or gender diversity; commit to engage in meaningful dialogue with their LGBTI communities to facilitate an informed debate about the means to remove all legal and other impediments to the enjoyment of their human rights; commit to open and free debate across the Commonwealth on the decriminalisation of homosexuality;support public education initiatives to inform the people of the Commonwealth about the case for LGBTI equality; support the right of an LGBTI Association to register with the Commonwealth alongside all civil society organisations and be free to express its views and engage in public debate; fully include LGBTI people in development and other programmes on an equal basis with the rest of society; and commit to include a discussion on equal rights for LGBTI citizens as a substantive agenda item at the next CHOGM.

How far are we away from this? As the report notes, forty one out of fifty Commonwealth nations still criminalise male homosexuality, while some also criminalise lesbianism as well. As for Sri Lanka, Section 365A of the colonial era Sri Lanka Penal Code bans gay male and lesbian sex alike, adding lesbianism as a “criminal offence” in 1995. Some Sri Lankan feminist groups- Womens Support Group, Companions on a Journey and Equal Ground- support LGBT rights within civil society. As for more general human rights questions, Wikipedia reports that neither the Sri Lankan government or vanquished Tamil Tigers opponents of its regime have clean hands. The Sinhalese-dominated regime is accused of anti-Tamil ethnic cleansing, as well as extra-judicial disappearances and paramilitary executions in Ampurai and Batticaloa provinces, as well as killing Tamil media workers and resorting to torture against regime opponents.  By contrast, the regime alleged that the Tamil Tigers also engaged in attacks on civilians, hate crimes against Muslim and Buddhist adherents and monks, killings, disappearances, torture of government supporters, illegal arrest and detention, interference with privacy, media censorship, suicide bombings and the use of child soldiers. Many of these alleged atrocities have no secondary verification, but then again, there has been no examination of war crimes carried out by either side during the twenty years of civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. Other atrocities have also been allegedly carried out against Tamil civilians at government “rehabilitation” postwar camps, as well as violence against women. In some cases, there has been medical documentation. The US State Department has also documented some Tamil Tiger atrocities while they occupied northern and eastern Sri Lankan provinces during the civil war. As well as the above, there are also reported instances of human rights violations by Janatha Vimakthi Peramuna (marxist-leninist) and Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (anti-Tiger Tamil government collaborator) paramilitary groups.


Speaking Out Report:

Human Rights in Sri Lanka/Wikipedia:


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