UPDATE (SRI LANKA): High-ranking police preventing work of human rights defenders


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-06-2002
ISSUES: Police violence,

Dear Friends, 

As the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has not yet taken any action on this matter, AHRC has written to the Chairman of the commission about the powers of the commission to act on this mater. AHRC has explained the legal provision under which HRC must act. It has also requested the commission not abdicate its powers and urged the commission not to be a client of the Attorney General. The credibility of the commission is at stake, AHRC has pointed out. 

AHRC’s letter is given below. You are encouraged to write to the Commission requesting it to defend itself against such attacks. 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Desk 
Asian Human Rights Commission 



February 18, 2002 

Mr. Fais Musthapa 
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka 
Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8 
FAX: +941 694 924 
Email: sechre@sltnet.lk 

Dear Mr. Musthapa, 

RE: Delay in Taking Action on the case of Obstruction to Inquiry and Disrespectful Behavior towards the National Human Rights Commission by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Ranmal Kodithuwakku 

We refer you to our earlier correspondence on this case. As a human rights organization, we are very concerned about this case and are worried about the delay in taking action on this case by any Sri Lankan authority, including your commission itself. 

We are aware that under the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act No. 21 of 1996 the alleged act of the ASP, if true, would constitute an offence of contempt committed against, or in respect of, the authority of the commission. This offence is dealt with in detail in Section 21 of the said act in Subparagraphs 1 to 6. 

Under 21(4), the determination of whether the offence has been committed has to be made by the commission itself. After making this determination, “the commission may transmit to the Supreme Court a certificate setting out such determination; every such certificate shall be signed by the chairman of the commission.?br> 
Thus, sir, if anything is to happen, the first step to be taken is for the commission to determine whether an offence of contempt has been committed against, or in respect of, the authority of the commission by the said ASP and any others. Until this occurs, nothing else will happen regarding the complaint filed by the inquiring officer in this case against the acts done by the said ASP. 

At the moment, there is a failure on the part of the commission to take the actions required under the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act. 

We have learned of speculation that the commission may seek the attorney general’s advice on this matter. We are compelled to point out that such a move would undermine the position of the commission and is completely unwarranted under the provisions of the act. Furthermore, it would undermine the authority of the commission in that the commission should have sufficient capacity to advise itself on matters relating to the exercise of its powers. It can, if necessary, obtain the assistance of lawyers, particularly those who devote their efforts to protect and promote human rights. The commission is not another government department which must seek legal advice from the attorney general. Rather, it is a body with powers to deal with its affairs, and the parameters of these powers have been set out by the Paris Principles. The United Nations has been campaigning with governments to give the National Human Rights Commissions powers that are necessary for them to act effectively. This presupposes that the commissions will use the powers they already have. The Sri Lankan commission has powers to deal with the situation in the present case. The commission has no reason to become a client of the attorney general. This is a matter of principle and to betray this principle would amount to an abdication of the powers it has. The commission must seriously reflect on this matter before taking such a course of action. It may also be noted that such a course necessarily implies delays. 

The commission has a duty to the public to explain what it is doing regarding the serious attack against its own rights. Up to now, the commission has not even made a public statement on the issue. There is a fear that the commission may be under pressure to ignore the issue. This fear can be put to rest by an explanation by the commission of the course of action it will take. 

We urge the commission to do their duty according to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act. It would be sad if it were to be said that the failure to act in this case was a result of the neglect of the commission itself. The simple question that is being asked now by many is that, if the commission does not defend itself, how can it defend the rights of others, particularly those who are poor and powerless. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act has given it the necessary powers. It must act NOW. 

Thank you for your kind attention to this serious issue. 

Sincerely yours,

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-06-2002
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Police violence,