UN body condemns criminalisation of intimacy between women


LGBTIQ and women’s rights activists across the world have welcomed a judgement by a UN women rights committee which ruled that the criminalisation of same-sex intimacy between women is a human rights violation.

In a landmark decision last week, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) found that Sri Lanka had breached the rights of Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, the Founder and Executive Director of Equal Ground, an organisation defending the rights of the LGBTI community in Sri Lanka.

According to Human Dignity Trust, the judgement sets a major international legal precedent, affirming that the criminalisation of lesbian and bisexual women violates the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The committee said that the Sri Lankan authorities subjected Flamer-Caldera to gender-based discrimination and violence, and had not taken any legal or other measures to respect and protect her right to a life free from gender-based violence or to eliminate the prejudices to which she has been exposed as a woman, lesbian and activist.

It also found that the authorities breached her right to access to justice since the criminal law constrains her ability to complain of abuses.

The committee urged Sri Lanka to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity. It also called for the state to take immediate and effective action to stop the threats, harassment and abuse that Flamer-Caldera has been subjected to and to ensure that she and Equal Ground can carry out their activism safely and freely.

“This landmark decision by CEDAW will remain one of the most historical judgments to be made by the UN in modern times,” commented Nate Brown, the Executive Director of Pan Africa ILGA. “This will inspire many women in Africa and beyond who are at the forefront of fighting for women’s rights to step up and bring human rights violations against women to book.”

Téa Braun, Chief Executive Of The Human Dignity Trust also welcomed the news. “This decision is significant for millions of criminalised lesbian and bisexual women around the world. Most of the 40-plus countries that currently criminalise same-sex intimacy between women have voluntarily signed up to the Convention and are now in clear and blatant violation of its binding legal obligations,” said Braun.

Flamer-caldera exclaimed that she is “over the moon” about the decision. “The Sri Lankan government has ratified the Convention, and this is therefore further pressure on them to repeal these discriminatory laws and free us from the stigma and violence caused by criminalisation,” she added.

Steve Letsike, South African feminist and Executive Director of Access Chapter 2 asserted that, “Lesbian and bisexual women are not asking for special rights. We are asking for the same rights as those enjoyed by our fellow citizens. And so, this decision is extremely useful as it will intensify and incentivise in-country efforts to ensure the advancement of all women towards equality.”

Described as an international bill of rights for women, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is also an agenda for action by countries to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights, with the vast majority of UN member states being bound by it.

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