Rajpal's Column

11th June 2000

Mixing up violence, sadism and sexual orientation

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Every woman, man and youth has the human right to freedom of sexual orientation. This includes the fundamental human right to freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other status.

The human rights related to non-discrimination are explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and declarations. While these documents do not contain direct references to discrimination based on sexual orientation, they do prohibit discrimination on grounds of sex.

In 1993, the UN Commission on Human Rights declared that the prohibition against sex discrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, included discrimination on the basis of sexual preference. (Extract from the People's Decade on Human Rights Education.)

In other words, no country which is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, such as Sri Lanka can discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, ie : on the basis of whether such people are homosexuals or lesbians. This is irrespective of what hangovers a country may harbour against the practice of homosexuality or lesbianism in a given cultural milieu at a given time.

The world press, last week, widely quoted a judgement that had been issued by the Sri Lanka Press Council. This judgement points out that "lesbianism itself is an act of sadism, and salacious publication of any opinion against such activities does not amount to a promotion of sadism or salacity, but any publication which supports such conduct is an obvious promotion of such violence, sadism and salacity.

Therefore the complainant is the one who is eager to promote sadism and salacity and not "The Island'' newspaper.''

In the midst of all the earthshaking issues concerning national security, which seems to be all encompassing these days, the peripheral issues should not be allowed to go by default. The fact is that the UN Commission on Human Rights declared that the provision of prohibition against sex discrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, included discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.

There is no ambiguity about it. Any country that is a signatory to the UN Covenants on Human Rights, is obligated to recognize the fundamental fact that sexual preferences between consenting adults are their business and their business alone.

And no less an organization than the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, therefore states clearly, without any ambiguity that homosexuality and lesbianism (i.e: sexual orientation) are social behaviours that cannot be subject to official sanction. Certainly, these sexual orientations cannot - repeat cannot - by any yardstick be defined as being "violent'' or "sadistic''. On the contrary, it is explicitly recognized that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, which makes it abundantly clear that sexual orientation is a recognized freedom. A recognized freedom therefore cannot by any yardstick be defined as being "violent or sadistic''. (Ideally, there would have been no reason to labour the point of course.)

The Press Council judgment on the Island case, in the way it is worded, is therefore clearly and directly contrary to the UN covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, and there is no need of any special elaboration on that count. (It is not being contended here that the Press Council should have made judgment in favour of the complainant; but what is said is that the reasoning given therein directly flies in the face of a UN Covenant, to which we are signatory.)

Besides all that, it is worth pointing out that lesbianism, however repugnant it may be to an individual or a system of cultural values, is not a form of violence or sadism. This should be self evident from the very definition of the words.

Lesbianism is sexual behavior between two consenting females, and whatever it maybe, it is obviously not a form of violence or sadism. Small wonder then that the international press chose to spotlight this judgment in the world's media.

This pronouncement is also ironic, to say the least, in a country in which a minister under whose hand the chairman and members of the Press council were appointed has made no secret of his own sexual orientation and preferences. Ergo, does this particular politician, therefore, on the wisdom of the judgment, qualify as a sadist or a perpetrator of violence? Then, how does he continue to be a minister of cabinet? (unless homosexuals of the male variety are god's chosen people, as opposed to lesbians?)

The central principle of non-discrimination ensures that no one shall be excluded from the full enjoyment of human rights by virtue of characteristics or identity status. In other words, saying that lesbianism is a violent or sadistic behaviour, is as bad as saying black or brown people are stupid, or that black people deserve to be slaves. This sort of verity is fundamental to any political or judicial dispensation in this day and age, and it is therefore incumbent on those who hold judicial office, to be aware of these verities. A knowledge of the law, for instance, is no supplement for a less than astute appraisal of the facts and of the norms of the day and elementary learning which are all requirements of judicial office.

This is by the way not an article that is promoting lesbianism or homosexuality. Let's go from the sublime to the ridiculous, even, and say that this writer is incorrigibly heterosexual. That sort of pronouncement is a necessary safeguard in any homophobic society such as ours!

Many societies are homophobic, and this includes large swathes of American society or Western societies for example. Homophobia exists, and is bad but cannot be outlawed.

But, no enlightened state will sanction official disparaging or discriminatory acts or remarks towards people of alternate sexual orientations. This country which has a tolerant Buddhist tradition certainly cannot sanction it for the simple reason that the Buddha prescribes no particular sanction against laymen for sexual preference. This should be obvious from the fact that he does prescribe sanction against the heterosexual or non-heterosexual behaviour of the nuns and the Buddhist bikkhus for instance. Therefore, the fact that he doesn't prescribe such sanctions against laymen who indulge in such preferences should indicate, at least to the enlightened, that Buddhism is a religion of tolerance that the Buddhist ethos is tolerant (though not laudatory or encouraging ) of people's individual sexual preferences.

This is not a country that cannot sanction letting loose convicted rapists on lesbians. But, we cannot also be seen to encourage official disparagement of people's sexual preferences.

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