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Human Rights Concerns Mount as Anti-Drug Operation “Yukthiya” in Sri Lanka Sparks International Outcry

In a joint statement released today, a coalition of prominent international organizations expressed profound concern over the intensification of anti-drug operations in Sri Lanka, citing widespread human rights violations and urging the government to immediately cease the controversial “Yukthiya” operation.

The statement, signed by organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Drug Policy Consortium, highlights alarming reports of arbitrary arrests, invasive searches without warrants, and degrading treatment during the ongoing operation. The operation, spearheaded by Acting Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennekoon with the endorsement of Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles, has led to at least a thousand daily arrests since its initiation on December 17, 2023.

The signatories express deep concern about the involvement of the armed forces in “Yukthiya,” noting that military support has been linked to several reported human rights violations, including arrests primarily targeting individuals from marginalized communities. The arrests have been televised, violating the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence, as individuals are detained even when no drugs are found in their possession.

Underpinning these concerns is the reported use of Section 54A of the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, a non-bailable offense, leading to prolonged pretrial detentions. This exacerbates an already overburdened prison system, where the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has previously decried inhumane and degrading conditions.

As of January 9, 2024, the reported number of arrests has surpassed 29,000, with nearly 1,500 individuals in administrative detention and an additional 1,600 sent for compulsory drug rehabilitation. The signatories argue that this violates fundamental rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health, as rehabilitation centers lack essential harm reduction services.

The joint statement invokes international standards and guidelines, including the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs, calling for a holistic and health-focused approach to drug control. The punitive and militarized tactics employed by the Sri Lankan government are denounced for contravening these established human rights principles.

In a call to action, the organizations collectively demand that the Sri Lankan government:

  1. Immediately cease operation “Yukthiya” and release individuals arrested without evidence or reasonable suspicion.
  2. Release those arrested or sent to compulsory drug rehabilitation for drug use or dependence.
  3. Cease involving the armed forces in drug control and treatment activities, aligning with human rights law.
  4. Repeal laws allowing compulsory drug rehabilitation, close treatment centers, and release individuals currently held.
  5. Allocate adequate financial resources for voluntary, community-based, and evidence-based drug treatment under the Ministry of Health’s leadership.
  6. Engage civil society, communities, human rights experts, and UN agencies in reforming national drug laws and policy.
  7. Ensure that any law enforcement operation respects due process standards and constitutionally protected fundamental rights.

The joint statement concludes by listing co-signatories, including international, regional, and local organizations united in their call for immediate action to address the escalating human rights crisis in Sri Lanka.

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