SRI LANKA: Special Operation Unit A Welcome Move

An Approach Different to The Organized Crimes Bill


10 June 2003
A Statement By the Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC

A Special Operation Unit (SOU), established under the instruction of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to bust organised crimes, commenced its service officially last week. The SOU comprises 30 members including Special Task Force (STF) members. The public from any part of the country can directly complain to this unit. The telephone number is advertised. The unit will operate around the clock.

This unit has been a response to the public pressure to crack down serious crimes. Increase of murders mostly by hired assassins said to be army deserters has led to public insecurity. This affects every aspect of social life.

Things became even more scandalizing when the police officers investigating into these crimes began to commit horrendous forms of torture on mostly innocent persons. Details of such cases can be found in past issues of Jana Sammathaya (

The present move for development of special unit, with power to deal with any complaint from any part of the country, may be a beginning of trying to undo some of the basic weaknesses of the Sri Lanka’s criminal investigation system. Under the Criminal Procedure Code criminal investigation takes place through a local police station. The officer who plays the key role is the chief investigation officer (OIC). As seen in previously reported cases OIC’s do not have the basic competence to perform criminal investigations. Once they come under pressure to resolve serious crimes, the OIC’s lead their subordinates more like a gang than an investigation team. The famous case of Gerald Perera, who was arrested and mercilessly beaten up, is a clear illustration of the mode of many arrests. He was arrested only because he had the name Gerald, as someone had complained a Gerald was responsible for the crime being investigated. The pattern in many other investigations is similar.

Thus, it is no longer useful or safe leaving serious criminal investigations to the local police stations and the local OIC’s. The development of a special criminal investigation branch, where more qualified and experienced persons can deal with the complaints of serious crime, is a necessity. The proposed Organized Crimes Bill was an ill thought out and dangerous piece of legislation, because it places more power on local police stations and therefore OICs.

Sri Lanka needs forensically trained police officers to deal with serious crimes. With the initiation of a new unit (SOU), it is to be hoped that persons of this unit be given more training. With specialization and training of the police force, the criminals may realize that their tricks will be uncovered. It is a proven theory that crime is prevented more by certainty of detection than harshness of punishment. Properly developed SOU can help the country to overcome its entrenched habit of torture in criminal investigations, and at the same time help bringing serious crime under control.

The present local police stations must be reduced to deal more with law and order issues and petty crimes. This way, the image of police stations may also change from places to be feared into places people can easily approach.

All good things often turn into their opposite if there are no checks and balances. If the new SOC is kept within reasonable legal limits from the very start, it will be better for both the SOU members and the public. This is a job for the  National Police Commission (NPC) , which is responsible for the disciplinary control of all members of the police service. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) can also help create a new approach to deal with crime.


Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC
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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-20-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,