Former Commonwealth Head of Human Rights condemns Sri Lanka over gay harassment

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The former head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth, Dr Purna Sen, has condemned the Sri Lankan Government over the harassment of activists campaigning for LGBT rights.

Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Dr Sen, who is Chair of the Kaleidoscope Trust, said 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 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) takes place in Sri Lanka in November.

“It is imperative that Sri Lanka as the CHOGM hosts must adhere to the principles underlying the Commonwealth and respect the right to active and safe democratic engagement by all human rights defenders,” Dr Sen added.

“If this kind of harassment continues then 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 said: “The recently adopted Commonwealth Charter states it is an association ‘devoted to improving the lives of all peoples of the Commonwealth’. This puts an obligation on the organisation to act against this sort of harassment.”

The Kaleidoscope Trust, based in London, has received reliable reports that Sri Lankan activists have been threatened with arrest and organisations have been warned they could be closed down if they continue to advocate for LGBT and human rights. 

Article 365A of the Sri Lankan Criminal Code criminalises same-sex sexual activity.

In August, PinkNews published a list of the 41 Commonwealth nations where being gay can land you in prison.

Dr Purna Sen was head of human rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2008 until 2011.

She is now running as the Labour candidate for the parliamentary seat of Brighton Pavilion in the 2015 General Election.

The current incumbent is Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Clarence Mitchell, the former BBC reporter and spokesman to Madeleine McCann’s family was selected as the Conservative candidate in July. The Liberal Democrats have yet to announce a candidate.