In a press notice issued today, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka expressed deep concern over the implementation of the ‘Yukthiya’ Operation by the Sri Lanka Police and the Ministry of Public Security. The operation, aimed at combating drug trafficking and organized crime, has come under scrutiny for alleged human rights violations, including torture, cruel treatment, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial actions.
According to the Commission, the Ministry reported the arrest of over 20,000 suspects within a span of two weeks, from December 17 to December 31, 2023. Despite the operation’s stated objective of upholding justice, the Commission has received numerous complaints, including those of torture and mistreatment, raising serious doubts about the appropriateness of the operation’s title, ‘Yukthiya,’ which means ‘justice’ in Sinhala.
The Commission emphasized that every person in Sri Lanka has a fundamental right to be free from torture and degrading treatment, as outlined in Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Reports of abuses during search operations have prompted the Commission to launch an inquiry into the matter.
Of particular concern is the context in which these reports arise. In 2023 alone, the Commission received over 200 complaints of torture, with perpetrators continuing to hold office despite Supreme Court findings against them. Custodial and encounter deaths involving the Sri Lanka Police remain a serious issue, with the Commission receiving complaints of such incidents in the first half of 2023.
The Commission highlighted the responsibility of law enforcement to respect the right to life, as implicitly recognized in Article 13(4) of the Constitution. Despite recent efforts, including the launch of draft guidelines on preventing custodial and encounter deaths, concerns persist, especially in light of a reported statement by the Minister of Public Security endorsing the use of ‘maximum force’ against drug traffickers.
Additionally, the Commission raised alarms about potential infringements on fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 13(1), (2), (3), and (5) of the Constitution, including freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence. The involvement of media personnel in police operations and the dissemination of such footage on national channels were criticized as serious violations of the right to privacy.
The ‘Yukthiya’ Operation, the Commission argued, is exacerbating the issue of overcrowding in prisons and undermining progressive reforms aimed at introducing alternatives to remand. The Commission called upon the President, the Minister of Public Security, and the Government of Sri Lanka to reevaluate the current law enforcement approach and focus on meaningful reforms that uphold public security within the framework of the Rule of Law.
As the situation unfolds, international human rights organizations are likely to monitor developments closely, urging accountability and reforms in the interest of justice and fundamental rights in Sri Lanka.