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Sri Lanka: Update to LKA29923.E of 1 September 1998 on protection available to female victims of domestic violence, including Sinhalese in Kandy (1998-2000)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 22 March 2000
Citation / Document Symbol LKA33929.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sri Lanka: Update to LKA29923.E of 1 September 1998 on protection available to female victims of domestic violence, including Sinhalese in Kandy (1998-2000), 22 March 2000, LKA33929.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad626c.html [accessed 22 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The following information was provided by the Senior Legal Officer of the human rights organization Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD) in Colombo, Sri Lanka (19 Mar. 2000):

Domestic violence per se is not an offence in Sri Lanka yet, in spite of the demand for same by women's organisations. Legally, Penal Code remedies like assault, hurt, grievous hurt etc. are the kinds of provisions that a woman can rely on. This is quite inadequate. The punishments for the offences are respectively a maximum of3 months imprisonment or fine, 1 year or fine and 7 years and fine together with whipping where the offence has been committed in respect of a woman or child. Presently, the police on receiving a complaint of the kind listed above, must refer the case to a Mediation Board first. An action is filed only if no settlement is affected here. Generally, the police would not be interested in filing an action, unless there is visible physical injury on the person. Though there is no statistical information to support or deny the claim, it is widely believed that very few cases of this nature generally come before courts. It is also pertinent to mention here that the Criminal Procedure Code provides for the imposition of suspended sentences, where the given punishment is a term of imprisonment of less than 2 years, the court imposes a suspended sentences valid for a certain period. This is generally given in the case of all first time offenders. The sentence for the offence then becomes operative only if the person commits the same offence again within that stipulated period. In which event, that person will have to serve the sentence handed down for the first offence as well as for the second.

The actual practice in the case of domestic violence is to settle disputes at police level and send them home after advice or admonition. Especially where the woman is economically dependent on the man, this pattern continues. There are 2 NGOs, one in Colombo and the other in Kandy, who run shelters for women. They permit women to use these facilities for 6 weeks. The one in Kandy also allows a woman to keep any minor children too during this period. I am not aware of any related services they provide and am also not sure whether this info. is needed. The Government sector has no similar programme. With no social welfare net to support a woman, the situation for someone without means is quite pathetic.

The Research Directorate was unable to corroborate this information within the time constraints of this Response.

For information on LHRD and its activities, please consult the 11 January 1996 letter from LHRD attached to LKA23043.E of 25 January 1996. The following also provide information on LHRD by other organizations: LKA23271.E of 22 March 1996, LKA23902.E of 15 April 1996, LKA24160.E of 14 May 1996 and LKA24472.E of 20 June 1996.

Several sources comment on protection available to women victims of domestic violence without mention of ethnicity, in Sri Lanka generally.  According to Country Reports 1999:

Sexual assault, rape, and spousal abuse (often associated with alcohol abuse) represent serious and pervasive forms of societal violence against women. Amendments to the Penal Code introduced in 1995 specifically addressed sexual abuse and exploitation. Rape laws were modified to create a more equitable burden of proof and to make punishments more stringent. Marital rape is considered an offense in cases of spouses living under judicial separation, and laws govern sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual molestation. While the Penal Code may ease some of the problems faced by victims of sexual assault, many women's organizations believe that greater sensitization of police and judicial officials also is required. The Government set up the Children and Women Protection Bureau within the police in 1994 to respond to calls for greater awareness and attention. (25 Feb. 2000, Section 4).

In August 1998 INFORM mentioned a "Special Police Bureau for prevention of abuse of children, adolescents and women." However, WIN News claimed in 1999 that

in spite of recent setting up of Women's Desks at major police stations in the country, the police tend to send victims back home as they consider it a 'domestic matter' to be settled between husband and wife.

Recently, however, a framework for model legislation on domestic violence has been drawn up by the UN Rapporteur on Violence, Sri Lankan Radhika Coomaraswamy. This comprehensive document outlines priorities for legislation and maintains that domestic violence must be recognized as gender specific, as a serious crime against individuals and society and remedies should comply with international standards.

The framework also urges the government to adopt the broadest possible definition of acts of domestic violence and the relationships within which such acts occur.

It also looks at all forms of gender based violence - sexual, psychological and physical. It includes threats of violence, intimidation, coercion, humiliating verbal abuse, arson, destruction of property, dowry related violence, exploitation and violence against female domestic workers.

The framework also calls for provisions for the victim to be safeguarded from further abuse after she makes a complaint and safety for those complaining on her behalf (31 Oct. 1999).

There were several reports in the period 1998 to 2000 of the arrests, and convictions, of suspects in incidents of violence against women (INFORM Oct. 1998; Newsletter of the US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka May 1999; Sri Lanka Monitor Dec. 1999; ibid. June 1999; Tamil Times 15 Jan. 2000). Some of those arrested were members of security forces and there are other reports of soldiers' involvement in violence against women (Sri Lanka Monitor June 1999; ibid. July 1999; ibid. Oct. 1999; ibid. Nov. 1999; ibid. Dec. 1999).

INFORM reported that "In March [1999], the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed to the former wife of a District Judge, Ms. Firdous Jabi. Ms. Jabir has alleged that she was unlawfully arrested by the Slave Island Police at the behest of her husband" whom she had divorced for an alleged affair with a 14 year old girl (Mar. 1999).

Although two sources state that despite the advances that have been made in the Sri Lankan women's movement, violence against women has increased (WIN News Autumn 1998, 63; Chicago Tribune 24 Jan. 1999), Country Reports 1999 says "Police statistics indicated that there were 26,660 crimes against women during the period from January to July, compared with 26,565 crimes between January and June of 1998" (25 Feb. 2000, Section 4). The Chicago Tribune reported that "Although Sri Lanka changed its 100-year-old penal code in 1995 to toughen laws that protect women's rights, activists say law enforcement is a key problem. 'We must be the only country in the world where the number of rapes has shown an increase after laws were made more stringent,' said …  a women's right activist and lawyer" (24 Jan. 1999).

Women Envision reported in January 1999 that women hesitate about bringing charges of domestic abuse against their husbands because they fear economic difficulties if the man is sent to jail. A superintendent of police stated that "this is a common occurrence in cases of domestic violence" (ibid.). According to a community development officer:

There is an acute need for a support structure when a woman reports assaults by her husband – something like an injunction which legally forbids the man to go places where he has a right to be, such as his home. It is in this way that women and children will feel safe and not be subjected to more battering (ibid.).

The Secretary of the Ministry of Justice stated:

"It is important to remember that a woman will seek legal relief only if the marriage is already broken and there is a divorce filed. Otherwise she will not jeopardise the family by making a legal complaint that may send the father of her children to jail" …

[The Secretary] also point to the need for gender sensitisation programmes for judges, policemen and doctors who treat victims of domestic violence in hospitals.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women's Affairs has appointed a committee to look into the legal aspects concerning this issue and to establish a mechanism at the district level with health authorities, legal perseonnel and the women's desks at all police stations to create a helpline for abused women at all levels.

"As a long term measure, the National Institute of Education (NIE) is being encouraged to look into the feasibility of introducing a gender component into school curricula, starting with textbooks at the primary level," says [the Secretary] (ibid.).

Upon the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Safety and Rights of Sri Lankan Women, new security measures were introduced in 1999 at Bandaranaike International Airport in order to protect women who had been subjected to theft and sexual violence at the airport upon their return from employment in West Asian countries (INFORM Sept. 1999).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Chicago Tribune. 24 January 1999. Farah Mihlar. "New Laws Aren't Helping Women in Sri Lanka." (NEXIS)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 25 February 2000. [Accessed 15 Mar. 2000]

Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD), Colombo, Sri Lanka. 19 March 2000. Correspondence from Legal Officer.

Newsletter of the US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka. May 1999. "Three Sentenced to Death for Rape and Murder." [Accessed 25 Aug. 1999]

Sri Lankan Information Monitor (INFORM) [Colombo]. November 1999. Situation Report: November 1999.

_____. September 1999. Situation Report: September 1999.

_____. March 1999. Situation Report: March 1999.

_____. October 1998. Situation Report: October 1998.

_____. August 1998. Situation Report, News Headlines: August 1998.

Sri Lanka Monitor [London]. December 1999. "Sarathambal Murder." [Accessed 22 Feb. 2000]

_____. October 1999. "Human Rights Abuses in Jaffna." [Accessed 22 Feb. 2000]

_____. July 1999. "Mannar Murder." [Accessed 22 Feb. 2000]

_____. June 1999. "Impunity." [Accessed 22 Feb. 2000]

Tamil Times [Surrey]. 15 January 2000. Vol. 19, No. 1. "Rape and Murder of Sarathambal."

Win News [Lexington, Mass.]. 31 October 1999. Fran Hosken. "Women and Violence: Domestic Violence in Sri Lanka; Police Still Reluctant to Arrest Men." (NEXIS)

_____. Autumn 1998. Vol. 24, No 4. "The Women's Movement in Sri Lanka."

Women Envision. January 1999. "Battered Wife's Dilemma." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases

LEXIS-NEXIS

REFWORLD

Resource Centre. Sri Lanka country file. October 1998 - February 2000.

Win News [Lexington, Mass.]. 1998.

The Women's Watch [Minneapolis]. January 1998 - February 2000.

World News Connection (WNC)

Unsuccessful attempts to contact 3 non-documentary sources

Internet sites including:

The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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