Following numerous complaints made to the President concerning
illegal arrests and detentions of Tamil people in Colombo by the armed forces
and the police, a special presidential committee of Ministers and senior Members
of Parliament headed by the Minister of Cultural Affairs was appointed in July
1998. At first this was called the Anti-Harassment Committee, but later its name
was changed to The Committee of Inquiry into Undue Arrests and Harassment. The
function of this Committee was to examine representations regarding illegal
arrests, detentions, or harassment so that prompt action could be taken to grant
relief. The Committee was serviced by the Public Complaints Unit of the Ministry
of Justice, which passed appropriate complaints on to the Committee for action.
The Committee was expected to submit weekly reports to the President and help
prevent the rights of persons taken into custody being violated.
Committee consists of seven members, all of whom are Members of Parliament, and
some of whom are Cabinet Members. The Committee was empowered not only to
inquire into complaints but also to give appropriate directions to any head of
the armed forces and the police with regard to any illegal arrest or undue
harassment. Since, by definition, every case of disappearance is preceded by the
arrest or taking into custody of an individual by the army, police or other
person, this Committee potentially plays a key role in checking disappearances.
However, its effectiveness has been questioned, partly because it is not
accessible to people living outside Colombo, and because even within Colombo
many do not know its existence as it has not been adequately publicised.
problem is that the functions of the Committee overlap with those of the HRC.
People with knowledge of these matters would rather complain to the HRC than to
the Committee, as the latter’s powers do not compare favourably with those of
Posted on 2003-06-15