The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) notes that every citizen is entitled to the
freedom of Assembly and expression and that this right has been exercised by different groups in
the country, including trade unions, professional bodies, students, and individuals. It has been
alleged in several complaints that in several instances where such rights were exercised, law
enforcement officers have resorted to the use of tear gas, water cannon, and carrying wooden rods
as a crowd control mechanism to disperse protesters.
The Commission as the key oversight body to promote and protect human rights in Sri Lanka,
views this situation as one that warrants scrutiny, to ensure that the exercise of the right to protest
and the restrictions imposed thereon are fully compatible with the relevant provisions of the
Constitution and international human rights obligations of Sri Lanka.
The Commission per the mandate conferred on it under the Human Rights Commission of Sri
Lanka Act No. 21 of 1996 (HRCSL Act) has initiated its inquiries and investigation process. The
inquiries will ascertain whether the crowd control procedures adopted by law enforcement officers
are in line with the constitutional provisions, international human rights obligations of Sri Lanka
, and basic principles of respecting human dignity. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is
inter alia required to
“inquire into and investigate complaints regarding infringements or imminent
infringements of fundamental Rights… (section 10)
The Commission may, on its own motion or a complaint made to it by an aggrieved person or
group of persons or a person acting on behalf of an aggrieved person or a group of persons,
investigate an allegation of the infringement or imminent infringement of a fundamental right of
such person or group of persons caused by the executive or administrative action. (section 14)
Several complaints have been received by the Commission regarding alleged infringements of
fundamental rights by the police, in the course of attempts to prevent protests from being carried
out around the Universities of Colombo and Kelaniya on 7th March and 8th March 2023.
Press Notice No: HRC/P/E/i/12/03/23
Accordingly, the HRCSL is required by law to inquire into such alleged infringements of
fundamental rights. Ordinarily, in the first instance, the investigations are handled by the Inquiries
& Investigation Division of the HRCSL, which accordingly commenced an investigation. The
HRCSL is vested with the power to inter alia,
(a) Investigate any infringement or an imminent infringement of fundamental rights in
accordance with the succeeding provisions of the Act.
(h) do all such other things as are necessary or conducive to the discharge of its
(vide Section 11)
In order to conduct such an inquiry, the HRCSL also inter alia,
(c)to summon any person residing in Sri Lanka, to attend any meeting of the Commission
to give evidence or produce any document or other thing in his possession, and to examine
him as a witness or require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession.
(vide section 18)
However, while the HRCSL possesses full power and authority to summon any person residing in
Sri Lanka to give evidence and produce documents, with regard to the aforesaid incident, at this
stage, the HRCSL, through its Secretary, merely requested the Minister under whose purview
the Sri Lanka Police falls, to attend the HRCSL to provide certain clarifications. The HRCSL
is optimistic that the discussion with the Minister would help to adopt a mechanism to prevent the
violations of fundamental human rights in the future and recommend human rights-compliant
guidelines for crowd control during the protest.
The HRCSL also observes that in terms of Article 4(d) of the Constitution of the Democratic
In the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, the fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and
recognized shall be respected secured, and advanced by all organs of the government.
Thus the HRCSL wishes to clarify that certain reports circulating to the effect that summons had
been issued on the said Minister are inaccurate and that no such summons has been issued at this
stage. This statement is made to clarify the erroneous statements carried out in the media.
As such, the HRCSL is confident that all members of the Executive would act in the spirit of
cooperation with the HRCSL in ascertaining factual matters relevant to the events of the 7th and
8th March 2023.
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