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International Outcry as Sri Lanka’s Anti-Narcotics Crackdown Faces Accusations of Arbitrary Arrests and Human Rights Abuses

The ongoing anti-narcotics crackdown in Sri Lanka, resulting in the “arbitrary arrest” of 30,000 suspects, has faced condemnation from the United Nations and various rights organizations. Sri Lankan police initiated the operation Yuktiya (meaning justice in Sinhala) in mid-December, aiming to eliminate the illegal drug trade in the country. However, law enforcement has been accused of unauthorized raids, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, public strip searches, and torture.

The UN human rights agency criticized the operation, urging the government to reconsider its approach, emphasizing a human rights-based strategy. Over 29,000 people have been arrested between mid-December and early January on suspicion of drug-related offenses, with more arrests planned. Approximately 1,500 individuals are in administrative detention, while 1,600 have been sent to compulsory drug rehabilitation centers.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, expressed concern, stating, “Abuse of drugs and its underlying causes are primarily public health and social issues.” Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and 30 rights organizations called for an end to the crackdown, citing arrests without reasonable evidence and the adverse impact on families during an economic crisis.

Despite international concerns, Sri Lanka police announced a new phase of the drug bust operation, aiming to arrest over 40,000 identified suspects before June. The statement emphasized the seizure of nearly 800kg of contraband, including 340kg of cannabis and 70kg of heroin during the operation.

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