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Commission issues guidelines to avoid arbitrary arrests

Graphic: A police officer in Colombo asks to inspect a person's identification

The Commission issued the guidelines after receiving a number of complaints alleging illegal arrests.

In the wake of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Colombo, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has issued guidelines to support the work of police and avoid arbitrary and illegal arrests.

In a letter to the Acting Inspector General of Police, the Commission said that it appreciated "the efforts taken by your department in the investigation process to identify persons involved" in the attacks.

"While the security measures are completely justifiable under the present circumstances, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka wishes to emphasize the need to ensure that arrests are made only on the basis of reasonable suspicion," the Commission said in the letter.

The Commission noted that it had received a number of complaints alleging illegal arrests.

"Some pertain to arrests made due to cultural misunderstandings or uncertainty and others due to suspicions expressed by members of the public," the Commission said.

"For example, one woman had been arrested due to a motif on her dress assumed to be inciteful; in other instances persons have been arrested for possessing literature in Arabic, even before ascertaining the contents; arrests have been made due to public pressure, such as an arrest of a trader because some persons feared he had applied a toxic substance to certain garments he was selling."

The Commission observed that, in most instances, police investigations are conducted after the arrest.

In order to avoid arbitrary and illegal arrests, the Commission issued the following guidelines for implementation by police officers:

  1. Whenever an arrest is to be made there should be solid evidence to form a reasonable suspicion pursuant to proper investigations. Arrests should not be made merely on hearsay.
  2. Where cultural issues are involved, such as the identification of religious symbols or identifying contents written in an alien language, proper expert opinion should be obtained.
  3. Where identification of chemical substances or contents of computer files or video footage or the like are involved expert opinion should be obtained.
  4. It is vital that the arrests are made not before, but after receiving credible information based on expert analysis and opinion, and on reasonable suspicion.

Date: 3 July 2019

Source: Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka


Image credits

  1. A police officer in Colombo asks to inspect a person's identification - Dhammika Heenpella, Flickr; http://bit.ly/2K9dNkN