As protests erupt worldwide over the Sochi Olympics in view of the Russian government’s homophobic laws and statements, activists are drawing a parallel with the situation in a far-away part of the world, Sri Lanka.
The sunny island of Sri Lanka, known for its tea, cricket and a past violent ethnic conflict that claimed thousands of lives, will be hosting the meeting of the heads of Commonwealth governments in November.
However, ahead of the meet, the former head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth, Purna Sen, has accused the Lankan government of ‘unacceptable harassment’ of activists campaigning for human rights and NGOs working on LGBT rights.
Sen, chair of the London-based Kaleidoscope Trust, an LGBT human rights charity, told the British Labour Party conference in Brighton last week that it was ‘wholly unacceptable for the country preparing to host Commonwealth leaders in a few weeks time to try to silence the LGBT community and human rights defenders through threats and intimidation’.
The Kaleidoscope Trust says it has received reliable reports that activists in the South Asian Buddhist state have been threatened with arrest and organizations have been warned they could be closed down if they continue to advocate for human rights for all.
Sen said Sri Lanka as the host country must adhere to the principles underlying the Commonwealth and respect the right to active and safe democratic engagement by all human rights defenders.
‘If this kind of harassment continues, both the secretary general and the heads of government meeting in Colombo must be prepared to speak out publicly and condemn any infringement on the rights of LGBT people, whether in Sri Lanka or anywhere else in the Commonwealth,’ she added.
Though the recently adopted Commonwealth Charter states it is an association ‘devoted to improving the lives of all peoples of the Commonwealth’, 42 of its 54 member states still have laws that criminalize homosexuality.
The Kaleidoscope Trust says it has confirmed reports that Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department has issued verbal warnings to human rights activists not to speak about LGBT rights, the criminalization of homosexuality or to hold workshops on the issues.
The pressure is said to have increased after the recent visit to by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
Same-sex sexual activity is a criminal offense in Sri Lanka.
Lance Price, executive director of the trust, said: ‘The Commonwealth has consistently refused to address the issue of human rights for LGBT people and this heads of government meeting will be no different.
‘More than half of all the countries in the world that still make being gay a crime are in the Commonwealth and this is stain on a organization supposedly committed to equal rights for all.’
Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council again called on the government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments to the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population.