The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) is an independent Commission established in 1997 pursuant to the enactment of the Human Rights Commission Act No. 21 of 1996 (The Act). The Act No. 21 of 1996 sets out the legal basis and operational principles of the HRCSL. The HRCSL is referred to in the Constitution of Sri Lanka but it is not formally established by the Constitution. The Chairperson and Members of the Commission are appointed as per the Constitutional provisions.
The functions of the Commission are to promote and monitor protection of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and ensure compliance by the Sri Lankan State of international human rights standards. The Commission has a broad mandate as well as powers, inter alia, to investigate into any complaints of fundamental rights violations or imminent fundamental rights violations and grant suitable redress, including compensation, and of unfettered access to inspect and monitor any place where a person is deprived of liberty. (Sections 10 and 11 of the Act). The Commission uses international human rights standards to interpret constitutionally guaranteed rights, thus broadening their scope.
The Act defines the Commission’s jurisdiction in terms of fundamental rights and human rights. Fundamental rights are certain civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed in Chapter III of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Human rights are defined in international law.
The Commission’s powers include its power to intervene in a matter pertaining to fundamental rights before any court (Section 11 (c)) and authority to scrutinise national laws, administrative directives and practices to ensure they are in accordance with international human rights norms through the release of recommendations to government (Section 10 (d)). Further, the Commission is empowered to raise public awareness and engage in educational activities on human rights (Section 10 (f)).
The Head Office of the Human Rights Commission is in Colombo. In addition, there are 10 regional offices around the island. The geographic jurisdiction of the Commission covers the territory of the Republic of Sri Lanka.
Prior to the establishment of HRCSL, two different institutions had been promulgated under emergency regulations: The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), to prevent illegal arrest and detention, and the Commission for Eliminating Discrimination and Monitoring of Human Rights (CEDMHR), to prevent discrimination.