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Saturday May 18th, 2024

LGBTQI activists in Sri Lanka welcome major court decision amid urgent need for reform

ECONOMYNEXT – In what LBGTQI activists in Sri Lanka are calling a welcome win in a country where harassment of the community at the hands of law enforcement is not uncommon, the Court of Appeal on Wednesday (08) granted leave to proceed for a writ petition filed against the police over a widely condemned homophobic training session.

The petition was filed by Equal Ground, a nonprofit organisation promoting LGBTQI rights in Sri Lanka, and other civil society activists, against the Inspector General of Police, the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Kandy range, and the trainer in question who had presented herself as a counsellor, over alleged violation of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people in the island nation.

A video recording of the said training programme went viral on social media in August 2021 in which the purported counsellor was seen openly making homophobic remarks to a packed audience of policemen and women. The offending video, which was shared on Twitter on August 02, showed the woman posing the question “Would you like your child to be a victim of a homosexual?” to which the audience replied “no” in unison.

The trainer is heard advising the police officers against the union of same sex couples, adding that the members of the audience would not have been born had their parents been gay. She also claimed that governments in Sri Lanka had been toppled over their stance on homosexuality, possibly referring to the previous Yahapalana administration which had at least one openly gay cabinet minister within its ranks.

A spokesperson for EQUAL GROUND told EconomyNext on Friday (10) that the NGO was hoping for a verdict prohibiting such training programmes in the future.

“What we are seeking is for the court to issue a writ of prohibition against the police from conducting similar programmes, trainings and seminars that discriminates, vilifies and are derogatory against the LGBTIQ community,” attorney-at-law Lasanthika Hettiarachchi who represents the organization said.

“That’s the relief we are asking for and nothing else.”

The case is now at the merit stage, according to Hettiarachchi, at which point a court grants ‘leave to proceed’. The court has also ordered to issue notice to the respondents in the case, Hettiarachchi said.

According to Hettiarachchi, most LGBQTI persons in Sri Lanka who are victims of harassment do not file fundamental rights petitions because they have not yet come out to their own families. Victims are unlikely to go to the police due to this and also on the likelihood of being harassed by the police itself.

“This fear is one main reason why the community members don’t file cases against the police,” she said.

Human Rights Watch has noted that police in Sri Lanka have carried out many arrests of LGBTQI people, sometimes employing violence.

“Among the 61 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people interviewed for a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, 16 had experienced physical or sexual assault, including rape, by the police,” an HRW report published in October 2020 said.

This writ petition by the activists against the police and the trainer is the first of its nature to be heard in Sri Lankan courts.

“So even for us knowing the history, knowing how difficult it is for the community to deal with the police; the fact that a Sri Lankan court is taking up the case and acknowledging that there is a need for the case to be heard is a win for the whole community,” Hettiarachchi said.

Though Equal Ground is not certain what the outcome will be, the organisation sees it as “progress so far”.

“When we filed the case, we thought that even if the case is not heard, or the judgment is not in favour or does not prohibit the police from conducting similar training, if we just get past the ‘leave to proceed’ stage, it will be progress for us,” said Hettiarachchi.

Archaic laws

Sri Lanka follows an archaic set of laws and rules set by the British in matters of sexuality, according to legal experts. Chief among these are Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code that prohibit “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and “gross indecency between persons”, which rights groups including Human Rights Watch have said is “commonly understood in Sri Lanka to criminalise same-sex relations between consenting adults, including in private spaces.”

“The larger society doesn’t seem to know what the laws are in the first place,” said Hettiarachchi.

Human Rights Watch has also documented that other laws, including a vaguely worded Vagrancy Law and a penal code provision banning “cheating by personation,” are also used to target transgender and gender non-conforming people for arrest.

“If you ask most people about it, they do not know if it is legal or not to be gay in Sri Lanka,” said the lawyer, adding that society at large remains uneducated on what acts amount to an offence and what doesn’t.

“I think legal literacy is very low, especially when it comes to certain myths about the community.”

In terms of reforms, progress has been slow at best.

Soon after the training video went viral, a cabinet spokesman said the government was still undecided on LGBTQI rights, but the matter is under discussion and representations have been made by various quarters.

Related: LGBTQ rights: Sri Lanka still undecided, says govt in response to homophobic police video

According to Hettiarachchi, one of the progressive steps taken is a Gender Recognition Certificate that was introduced in 2016 that trans-gender persons may apply in order to legally change their gender whether or not they have undergone a medical transformation.

Activists have long called for robust reform. In the wake of the police video, the Sri Lanka College of Psychiatrists urged authorities to amend article 365.

“This archaic law should be abolished and homosexuality decriminalised in Sri Lanka,” the psychiatrists’ body said in a statement condemning the video and pointing out that homosexuality is not a mental illness.

Related: Sri Lanka College of Psychiatrists says homosexuality no illness, calls for decriminalisation

Hettiarachchi said, other than the Gender Recognition Certificate, there has not been any substantial progress in the area.

However, she did note recent remarks attributed to President Gotabaya and Justice Minister Ali Sabry that she said were progress in their acknowledgement of the community and their rights.

“The first step would be to decriminalize same-sex sexual activities in the penal code,” said Hettiarachchi.

However, the lawyer does not see this happening anytime soon as any real reform can only take place in the legislature and the law cannot be challenged in court. “It needs to go through parliament to be changed,” she said.

At a lower level, she said, there are issues the community faces that can be changed, mainly with the police and the criminal justice system.

“One would be to sensitise and educate the police about the law of the country because either they are not aware or they are abusing the law,” said Hettiarachchi.

There are cases in which gay persons have been raided and arrested for being in the same hotel room and were subjected to anal examinations to determine if they had had sexual intercourse before the police arrived at the scene.

“Even according to the Penal Code, you cannot arrest a person for being gay and carry out tests to check if they were involved in sexual activity; but this is what’s happening in the country,” said Hettiarachchi.

“Basically, this is an abuse of law so the first step will be to educate the police and reduce arbitrary arrests and harassment for the community,” she said. (Colombo/Dec11/2021)

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Sri Lanka suffers over $138mn foreign outflow from govt bonds in 2024 after rate cuts

ECONOMYNEXT – Foreign investors have dumped 41.6 billion-rupee ($138.6 million) worth of Sri Lanka government securities in the first 20 weeks of 2024, the central bank data showed, after reduction in the key policy interest rates.

The foreign holding in Sri Lanka’s treasury bills and treasury bonds fell to 75.9 billion rupees on the week ended on Friday (17), May 2024, from 117.4 billion rupees on the week ended on December 29.

The central bank rate has reduced the key policy rates by 50 basis points so far in 2024, extending the rates cut by 700 basis points since June last year.

The rupee appreciated 9.1 percent in the first four months, but the gain failed to attract foreign investors amid a dragged debt restructuring negotiation with external private creditors.

Currency dealers said lackluster demand for dollars due to dampened imports with heavy controls, boom in both tourism revenue and remittances have helped to increase the dollar liquidity in the market, leading to the appreciation of the local currency.

The dealers said foreign investors can earn capital gain if they had bought government securities before the appreciation and now the offshore investors might be selling their bonds.

“They are also discouraged by policy rate cut because that will reduce their returns from the rupee bond investments,” a currency dealer said.

The yield in 12-month T-bills has fallen 336 basis points in the first four months of this year, the central bank data showed.

The central bank also reduced the Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) of commercial banks by 200 basis points in August last year to boost liquidity in the market with an aim to reduce market interest rates.

Under tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions for its $3 billion loan program, the central bank raised key monetary policy rates in 2022 and last year to bring down inflation which hit over 70 percent in 2022. The inflation has fallen to the lower single digit now.

The rupee has appreciated to around 300 against the US dollar this week from around 330 level early in November. The local currency was at 365 rupees against the US dollar in early 2022. Depreciation causes capital loss for foreign investors. (Colombo/May 18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourist fair seeks to involve universities

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourism fair kicked off this week to promote interaction between industry stakeholders and relevant Government bodies, including the Tourist Police, and also universities.

“Several universities, including Colombo, Uva Wellasa, Kelaniya, Sabaragamuwa and Rajarata were given free stalls to facilitate student interaction with industry professionals,” Chairman of the Sancharaka Udawa Organising Committee, Charith De De Alwis said in a statement.

The event takes place today (18) at the BMICH and houses stalls for hoteliers, tour and transport services, with a goal of attracting 10,000 visitors.

Organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the 11th edition of Sancharaka Udawa offers a platform for both B2B and B2C sectors.

“Sancharaka Udawa houses over 170 exhibitors and a footfall of more than 10,000 visitors,” De Alwis said.

This year’s edition will include participants from outbound tourism sectors to facilitate capacity building. The event provides networking opportunities for industry newcomers and veterans.

“The networking platform offers opportunity for small and medium-sized service providers integrating them into the broader tourism landscape. The anticipated outcome is a substantial increase in bookings particularly for regional small-scale tourism service providers.” (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s CEB sells LTL shares to West Coast IPP for Rs26bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board has sold shares of an affiliate to West Coast Power Company Limited, an independent power producer giving profits of 25.9 billion rupees in the March 2024 quarter, interim accounts showed.

The sale has been carried out as a transfer.

“Twenty-eight percent (28-pct) of share ownership of CEB within LTL Holding’s equity capital has been transferred to West Coast Power Company Ltd for a total consideration of Rs 26 billion as part of a partial settlement of outstanding dues…” the March interim accounts said.

“This transaction resulted in a net gain of Rs25.9 billion rupees which has been recognized and reflected in the ‘Gain from Share Disposal’ in the individual financial statement in CEB.”

LTL Holdings is a former transformer making unit of the CEB set up with ABB where the foreign holding was sold to its management.

The firm has since set up several IPPs.

West Coast Power operates a 300MW combined cycle IPP in Kerawalapitiya promoted by LTL group liked firms in which both the Treasury and Employees Provident Fund also have shares.

Its operational and maintenance contract is with Lakdhanavi, another private IPP. The firm has been paying dividends.

The capital gain from the transfer of shares helped the CEB post profits to 84 billion rupees for the March 2024 quarter.

CEB reported gross profits of 62.7 billion rupees from energy sales and 30.6 billion rupees in other income and gains in the March 2024 quarter. Other income was only 3.1 billion rupees in last year. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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