2ND LEAD (Adds details)

British Minister under fire for Lanka vacation

[TamilNet, Sunday, 20 December 2009, 15:48 GMT]
"Ben Bradshaw will be free to travel in Sri Lanka in a way that 100,000 displaced Tamils cannot," said the British daily Independent, adding, "the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has raised eyebrows by taking a Christmas holiday in Sri Lanka days after the British government condemned the Colombo administration for its poor human rights record." Bradshaw's act follows a month after Gordon Brown blocked "Sri Lanka's attempt to host the next Commonwealth summit," and a week after last "David Miliband told the Commons that there remained ongoing concerns about the island's government after a crackdown on the Tamil population earlier this year," the paper said.

Ben Bradshaw, British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Ben Bradshaw, British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Despite the concerns shown by his parliamentary ruling collegues, "Mr Bradshaw, wearing a straw hat, checked shirt and jeans, arrived at Colombo airport on Friday morning for a Christmas break in the country," the paper added.

"Human rights campaigners questioned why Mr Bradshaw, whose ministerial responsibilities include tourism, was supporting Sri Lanka's travel industry by holidaying there.

"Human Rights Watch called on him to make a public statement disapproving of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's clampdown on Tamils.

"A spokesman for the organization [HRW] said that, while the cabinet minister is free to travel around Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) still face restrictions on their movement – despite some relaxation in the rules this month," the paper said.

Mr Bradshaw paid around £1,600 [US $2586.00] for a business-class ticket for the 10-hour flight. He left Heathrow on Thursday just before snowstorms hit – causing delays and cancellations – and arrived in Colombo on Friday, to be met by temperatures of around 31C [degree celcius]," the paper said.

"It's ironic that an openly gay British Minister, who claims he is one of few MPs to have been elected whilst being 'openly' gay, opts to holiday in a country that outlaws homosexuality," said a political observer in UK.

In 2008, Sri Lanka refused to sign onto a proposed United Nations document calling for the legalization of homosexuality between consenting adults in private.

A Canadian Immigration Board's release on Sri Lanka's legislation related to homosexuality noted, "[h]omosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka (AI July 2006; Freedom House 2006; WSG n.d.a). Under Section 365A of the country's penal code, homosexual acts are punishable by a jail term of up to ten years (Gay Times n.d.; see also AI July 2006). According to the website of Women's Support Group (WSG), a Sri Lankan non-governmental organization (NGO) and "the first women's group in Sri Lanka to dedicate itself to issues of lesbians, bisexual women and transgendered persons," prior to 1995, this law applied only to homosexual men (n.d.a). However, in 1995, the law was amended to be "gender-neutral," resulting in the criminalization of both male and female homosexual activity (WSG n.d.a)."

"Homophobia in Sri Lanka is said to be "rampant" (Gay Times n.d.). Homosexuals may face blackmail (WSG n.d.a; US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 5), may be forced to leave their homes (BBC 20 May 2005; WSG n.d.a), and may lose their jobs (ibid.). The stigma associated with homosexuality prevents many from living openly (ibid.; ILGA 3 June 2005; BBC 20 May 2005; Gay Times n.d.)."

External Links:
RW: Sri Lanka: Laws proscribing homosexual acts
Independent: Minister's Sri Lanka holiday outrages rights campaigners


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