PTF On Building A Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous & Lawful Society: Complaints Lodged With HRCSL

A complaint has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka against the Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society.

On 2 June, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by way of an Extraordinary Gazette notification (number 2178/18) established this Task Force and appointed 13 Members to it. The Task Force is Chaired by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Other Members include the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Directors of each of their Intelligence Units, the Acting Inspector General of Police, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) of the Police Special Task Force, a DIG, the Director General of Customs, the Chief of the National Intelligence Service and the Director of the State Intelligence Service.

The Task Force has been tasked with i) taking necessary immediate steps to curb the illegal activities of social groups which are violating the law, which in turn are emerging as harmful to the free and peaceful existence of society at present in some places of the country, ii) taking necessary measures for prevention from the drug menace, prevent the entry of drugs from abroad through ports and airports and to fully eradicate drug trafficking and to prevent other social illnesses caused by drug abuse, iii) taking necessary measures to take legal action against persons responsible for illegal and antisocial activities being conducted in Sri Lanka while being located in other countries, and iv) to investigate and prevent any illegal and antisocial activities in and around prisons.

The President has authorized the Task Force to i) investigate and issue directions as may be necessary in connection with the functions entrusted to it, ii) issue instructions or request that all Government officers and other persons requesting assistance in the provision of services, comply with such instructions, and to iii) report to the President, all cases of delay or default on the part of any public officer or officer of any Ministry, Government Department, State Corporation or other similar institution in the discharge of the duties and responsibilities assigned to such public officer or institution.

In the complaint, the basis for the human rights violation has been cited as race {Article 12(2)}, language {Article 12(2)}, religion {Article 12(2) and Article 10}, sex {Article 12(2)}, personal, administrative, political opinion {Article 12(2)}, freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment (Article 11), right to equality and equal protection of the law {Article 12(1)}, freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment (Article 13), the presumption of innocence {Article 13(5)}, the freedom of speech and expression including publication {Article 14(1)(a)}, the freedom of peaceful assembly {Article 14(1)(b)}, the freedom of association {Article 14(1)(c)}, the freedom to form and join a trade union {Article 14(1)(d)}, the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching {Article 14(1)(e)}, the freedom to enjoy and promote one’s own culture and to use one’s own language {Article 14(1)(f)}, the freedom to engage in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise {Article 14(1)(g)}, the freedom of movement and choosing one’s residence within Sri Lanka {Article 14(1)(h)}, and the freedom to return to Sri Lanka {Article 14(1)(i)}.

The reliefs sought have been recommendations to be issued to the Government, the President and the Secretary to the President to withdraw the said Gazette Extraordinary, and for the Government, the President, the Secretary to the President and the Task Force, to stay all actions being taken by the Task Force in breach of Fundamental Rights.

The complainant claims that the President has acted ultra vires inter alia the Constitution and specifically Article 33 (duties, powers and functions of the President) as amended by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and therefore that the appointment of the Task Force is ab initio, null and void. 

Further, the Task Force establishes a system/scheme of administration parallel to the public service established under the Constitution, and this administrative system/scheme is not answerable, responsible and subject to the Cabinet of Ministers and/or the Parliament, and therefore this power scheme is unconstitutional. 

The mandate of the Task Force is ultra vires inter alia the Constitution, the Establishments Code, the Police Ordinance and the Criminal Procedure Code and the powers of State institutions established to discharge the duties and functions relating to these Statutes. 

The Task Force subjects Secretaries to the Ministries, other administrative officers and all State officers under them, answerable to the Task Force and is empowered to issue orders to Government officers to perform duties, without any approval or supervision from the relevant Ministers, and therefore this scheme of power arrangement is unconstitutional. 

State bureaucracy is placed in a superior position to the military under the Constitution whereas the said Presidential Directive places the Tri-Forces above State bureaucracy, which is unconstitutional. Secretaries to the Ministries are made answerable and subordinate to the Defence Secretary cum Task Force Chairman, therefore this scheme of power is unconstitutional. 

The Presidential Directive does not specify as to how State revenue is allocated by the State budget to the Task Force and therefore any allocation of State funds for the operation of the Task Force without the approval of the Parliament is illegal and unconstitutional. 

The actions of the Task Force are made immune from judicial review by the said Presidential Directive, which is unconstitutional. 

The powers of the Task Force are vague, bad in law, and the scope of the powers are overbroad, given that the words like “disciplined” and “virtuous” and phrases like “anti social activities” mentioned in the Clauses of the said Directive are legally undefined, which violates the principles of the rule of law’.

The appointment of the Task Force should therefore have been, the complainant argues, approved by the Parliament by way of a Constitutional Amendment and then approved by the people at a referendum as the Presidential Directive establishing it violates the peoples’ sovereignty guaranteed under Article 4.

The complainant petitioner is Ruwan Laknath Jayakody. The complaint was drafted by Attorney Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekera. The complaint reference number is HRC/1106/20.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney Senaka Perera also filed a complaint with the Commission stating that the Task Force was illegal, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, noting specifically that it does not fall within Article 33. This complaint also notes that the composition of the Task Force is repugnant to the Government’s functions in respect of civilian matters. Also, the appointment of the Task Force encroaches upon the powers and duties of civil servants and public officers, the complainant added.

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