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3.1 Human Rights Task Force (HRTF)

The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) was originally established in August 1991 by a regulation gazetted under section 19 of the Sri Lanka Foundation Law No: 31 of 1973.[1]  With the change of the government in 1994, the performance of this body was reviewed and it was reconstituted with greater authority by regulations made by the President under section 5 of the Public Security Ordinance (PSO).[2] The objectives of the reconstitued HRTF were to

monitor observance of fundamental rights of persons detained in custody, otherwise than by a judicial order, and to ensure that human treatment is accorded to them, and which body shall for this purpose have the following powers and duties

                                i.            to maintain a comprehensive and accurate register of such person with full details of their detention and to ensure observance of, and respect for their fundamental rights, and to ensure human treatment for them;

                              ii.            to investigate and establish the identity of each such person by a proper identification process;

                            iii.            to monitor the welfare of such persons;

                            iv.            to carry out regular inspections of places of detention, make roll calls and other necessary spot checks and to take immediate steps to remedy any shortcomings; and

                              v.            to record any complaints, representations or grievances that may be made to it and to take immediate remedial action.

 In the exercise of these functions, the HRTF was particularly concerned to ensure that the fundamental rights of persons in custody were not violated. Its officials made unannounced visits to detention centres and interviewed detainees confidentially, providing detainees with an opportunity to air any grievances and requiring the persons responsible for the detention to ensure that at least the basic facilities were provided. The HRTF also helped to locate many persons taken into custody, if they were in unacknowledged detention. The HRTF was primarily concerned with locating such missing detainees; it did not generally investigate who was responsible for such events.

 The HRTF established regional offices in almost every province, making itself easily accessible to complainants and enabling its officers to visit detention centres more frequently. However, despite its efforts, disappearances of persons taken into custody continued.

Subsequently the President issued a directive dated 18th July 1995 to the armed forces and the police force under Regulation 8 of the said regulations [3] wherein special provisions were included to make the police and the security forces accountable for every person taken into custody. Paragraph 3 of this directive reads as follows:

  1. The person making the arrest shall identify himself to the person arrested or any relative or friend of such person, by name and rank;
  2. every person arrested or detained shall be informed of the reason for the arrest;
  3. the person making the arrest or detention shall issue to the spouse , parents or any other close relative a document acknowledging the fact of arrest.
  4. the person arrested shall be afforded reasonable means of communicating with a relative or friend to enable his whereabouts being known to his family.

 Despite these specific directives, illegal arrests and detentions continue because there are no penal provisions to deal with those who do not comply with the directives.


[1] Government Gazette Extraordinary No. 173/2 of 31.7.1991

[2] Government Gazette Extraordinary No. 874/8 of 07.06.1995

[3] The Emergency ( Establishment of a Human Rights Task Force) Regulation 1 of  1995 published in Government Gazette Extraordinary  No. 874/8 of 07.06.1995

Posted on 2003-06-15


Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons
Asian Human Rights Commission

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