Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Domestic Violence Bill Debated In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary. Recently proposed legislation to curb
domestic violence contains provisions for victims, including
interim and one-year protection orders, as well as
supplementary orders mandating counseling for abusers. An
NGO representative pointed out that the bill does not provide
counseling services or shelters for victims. If the
legislation is eventually passed, translating this new law
from theory to practice will be a huge challenge in a society
that tolerates high levels of domestic abuse. End summary.

2. (U) On February 22, members of Parliament began to debate
a new Government-backed bill to prevent domestic violence.
Put forward by Minister of Justice and Judicial Reforms John
Seneviratne, the bill makes provisions for victims of
domestic violence, including the availability of interim and
one-year protection orders for victims, as well as
supplementary orders removing weapons from and mandating
counseling for abusers. The bill contains provisions for the
right to appeal to these orders and also sets the punishment
for violation of orders at a fine of roughly $100, up to one
year imprisonment, or both.

3. (U) Media reports highlighted several Parliamentarians'
comments during the first round of debate. According to
February 25 press reports, a deputy minister of the ruling
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) acknowledged the paucity of
support for battered women, citing "the negligent attitude of
the police and cultural inhibitions (that) prevent women from
seeking redress" as significant obstacles. Pro-Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Tamil National Alliance MP
Padmini Sithramparanathan pressed for "an attitudinal change
in the entire Lankan society to wipe out domestic violence."
Trade Minister Jayaraj Fernandopulle voiced some opposition
to the bill. According to media reports, he said the bill
"showed the possibility of disintegrating the family,"
because of the provision for protection orders which would
potentially separate parents for a period of up to one year.
Fernandopulle suggested making necessary amendments to the
bill to find "ways and means to keep families together."
Parliament reconvenes on March 9, but no date has been set to
resume debate on the Prevention of Domestic Violence bill.

4. (U) While the bill attempts to provide protection orders
for victims, it does nothing to provide services for the
abused. Savithri Wijesekera, Director of Women-In-Need
(WIN), an NGO focused on domestic abuse issues, commented to
POL FSN that while WIN had been lobbying for a bill
addressing domestic abuse for years, "A lot more should have
been included," such as counseling services and basic
shelters for victims. A United National Party (UNP) MP (and
former Minister of Constitutional Affairs) told the local
press on February 25 that the bill could be improved by
requiring anyone aware of ongoing domestic violence to be
"duty bound by law to disclose the information to the
relevant authorities.

5. (U) Many interlocutors describe domestic abuse in Sri
Lanka as a pervasive problem, one frequently associated with
alcohol abuse. Accurate statistics addressing the true
extent of domestic abuse are not available. However, the
Police Bureau for the Protection of Women and Children cited
1,190 cases of violent crimes against women and children in
2004 (the last year from which statistics are available).
UNHCR Community Services Officer Monika Sandvik told poloff
that domestic abuse legislation should be accompanied by
programs to address some of the aggravating circumstances,
e.g. drug and alcohol abuse. In December 2004, UNHCR
launched a long-awaited campaign to raise awareness about
sexual and gender-based violence (Reftel). Unfortunately,
after the December tsunami, the messages needed to be
"retooled," according to Sandvik, and are on hold until
appropriate messages for a tsunami-traumatized public are

6. (U) Comment. Many MPs voiced support for the bill, but
suggested that it needs to be amended to be made more
effective. If the law is passed, its implementation will
pose a huge challenge in a society that continues to tolerate
high levels of domestic abuse. End comment.


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