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Sunday May 22nd, 2022
Legal

Defence ministry vetting foreign spouses: Sri Lanka lawyer goes to human rights body

ECONOMYNEXT – A new and controversial requirement for Sri Lankans to obtain defence ministry approval before getting married to a foreign national is absurd, said a lawyer who lodged a complaint against it with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) on Monday (27).

“This is absurd and I honestly don’t understand what they are trying to do with it,” attorney-at-law Thishya Weragoda who filed the complaint against the marriage registrar’s circular told EconomyNext.

“In a world where we are very connected and a lot of our own younger generation travel abroad for studies and work, these things will become very commonplace.  Your saying that a person cannot marry a foreigner without the defence ministry’s permission is very absurd,” he said.

The Sunday Times, a weekly English-language newspaper, reported on Sunday (26) that a citizen will have to get a ‘Security Clearance Report’ from the Ministry of Defence to marry a foreign national.

Related: Sri Lanka defence ministry to vet foreign spouses of citizens, series of new controls: report

Analysts say the circular is a series of new barriers enacted to make it more difficult for the island’s residents to marry foreigners.

Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, states:

  • Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

Sri Lanka’s marriage registration ordinance prohibits the following, among other things:

  • Parties below the age of 18 cannot enter marriage
  • Couples who are direct descendants or siblings by full or half-blood and previously-married persons who have not dissolved their marriages cannot enter another marriage

“What is happening here is that you have to obtain the consent of a third party, and that party has the authority to veto,” said Weragoda.

The lawyer said if a requirement such as a ‘security clearance report’ is to be implemented it should be done through an amendment to the law.

“It cannot happen via a circular because the law would need to be changed. For that to happen it should be gazetted and debated in parliament before it is passed,” he said.

A gazette can be challenged in court but not a requirement declared via a circular, he added.

Weeragoda said there are three aspects to the issue.

One is that the marriage registration ordinance rules can only be made by the minister and not the registrar. “The registrar has no control or power over the people.”

The second aspect, Weeragoda explained, is that marriage and the freedom to marry fall under the freedom of thought and conscience in the constitution. “Therefore no restrictions can be placed on it.”

“No one can control a person’s emotion to fall in or out of love. Can the government say they will or will not allow you to get married to X or Y?”

The final aspect is that the government’s concern about Sri Lankans marrying foreigners or vice versa is that those foreign spouses may have ulterior motives in marrying a local to use them as a gateway to to illegal trade.

“Foreign spouses and their criminal track record are an immigration issue. The government can always deny a visa but it has no right to say one needs to obtain defence or health ministry clearance for them to get married here,” said Weragoda.

“These are two completely distinct aspects.”

Sri Lanka also has a diaspora community who visit the country to get married in the island or where their parents got married.

At the height of COVID-19 infections in the country, Sri Lanka was in discussions with India to host destination weddings under a bio-bubble concept.

“One of the biggest issues we have in this country is that people don’t have an adequate understanding how freedoms work. In other countries there would be so much opposition against something like this this from activists and organisations that the government would be forced to back down immediately. But here there are many who would justify this,” he said.

“We are not a rights-based society; that’s the problem. I was compelled to lodge the complaint because somebody had to do something,” he added. (Colombo/Dec27/2021)

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