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Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister declares Operation ‘Yukthiya’ will progress despite human rights concerns

Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister and Inspector General of Police, Tiran Alles, declared, during a programme in Jaffna, that Sri Lanka’s notorious anti-drug operation “Yukthiya” will continue with a focus on the Tamil regions in the North-East, despite outcry from human rights defenders.

Alles noted that investigations will be carried out by police stations based on complaints and information in connection with crimes received through the “107" Emergency Call Centre, which are functioning 24-hours focusing on the Tamil community living in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Whilst the Sri Lankan government maintains that its aim is to reduce crime, Operation Yukthiya has come under heavy criticism for its heavy-handed tactics which resulted in the arrest of over 30,000 individuals. Security forces have reportedly conducted raids without search warrants, detaining suspected drug sellers and users, with hundreds sent to military-run rehabilitation centres.

During and after these operations, people are reported to have been subjected to several violations, including unauthorised searches, arbitrary arrests and detention, ill-treatment, torture, and strip searches in public. In one instance, a 17-year-old boy was reportedly forced to strip completely naked on the Galle road, merely for carrying a pair of scissors. Lawyers acting for those detained have alleged that they have faced intimidation from police officers.

UN experts, who are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, have criticised the operation stating that

“Drug users have human rights [...] They deserve to live a life with dignity without facing further discrimination and stigmatization. The current context of severe repression against suspected drug offenders is deeply worrying.”

Human Rights activist Ambika Satkunanathan posted on social media that the searches were not based on evidence but were "targeting only poor areas".

The police were arresting drug users and small-time dealers but "not focusing on large-scale traffickers", she added

The selling and use of drugs across the North-East have been rising since the end of the armed conflict. The former Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran stated in 2015 that Tamil youth are being pushed into drugs and prostitution with the help of the Sri Lankan military and in recent years high profile arrests of Sri Lankan military and Police for drug possessions are common. Sri Lankan state forces have been implicated in drug trafficking, over a dozen Sri Lankan police officers from the country’s Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB) were arrested for their alleged involvement in an illegal drug ring. Speaking in parliament in 2020 JVP MP, Vijitha Herath, claimed that the murder of Makandure Madush, a notorious drug “kingpin” who was under police custody at the Maligawatte Housing complex, was done to protect 80 politicians complicit in drug trafficking. The rise in drug use and trafficking is alleged to have been connected to senior Sri Lankan politicians. Under the guise of eradicating the 'drug menace', surveillance and harassment of the Tamil populace have been increasing and militarisation of Tamil land has become rampant. 

Read more here.

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