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Sri Lankan Defence Secretary vows to eradicate the 'drug menace'

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, and accused war criminal, Kamal Gunaratne vowed during a meeting that he would eradicate Sri Lanka’s drug menace by going after corrupt officials and supporting victims of drug addiction.

This statement follows the establishment of a Presidential Task Force (PTF) that provides Sri Lanka officials with a worryingly broad mandate to tackle the drug menace whilst also failing to illustrate clear lines of accountability.

Sri Lanka’s war on drugs has widely panned by human rights organisations. Under the Sirisena administration, there were plans to end the 43-year-old moratorium on the death penalty for drug offences and to follow the notorious model set by Philippine’s authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte.

 

Rehabilitation

Gunaratne statements came yesterday during the foundation laying ceremony held for a new rehabilitation centre at the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), at Nittambuwa. The new rehabilitation centre, known as the ‘Nawa Diganthaya’, is built in partnership with the Government of Germany and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as well as Sri Lanka’s Navy.

The Colombo Page reports that Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary Ravinatha Ariyasinghe, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Maj. Gen. (Retd) Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya, Defense Ministry’s Additional Secretary Malika Sooriyapperuma were also present at the occasion.

The rehabilitation centre aims to rehabilitate nearly 1,000 drug addicts and is part of the government’s mission to “build a drug free, healthy and secured nation”, stated Chairman of the NDDCB, Dr. Laknath Welagedara.

Deputy Ambassador of Germany Andreas Berg stated with respect to this program;

“We are looking forward to working in partnership with the government, UNODC, civil society, judiciary and prison officials in curbing drug and drug abuse and violent extremism”.

The support from the UN and Germany comes despite numerous human rights organisations raising concerns over the newly appointed PTF which the International Commission of Jurists has described as “a threat to the rule of law”.

 

Presidential Task Force

Commenting on the nature of the PTF, Jaffna-based Attorney, academic and civil society activist, Kumaravadivel Guruparan warns that it enables for a further empowering of the militarised state.

Gurupan notes that at three separate points in the Gazette notification there is a call to “curb unlawful activities but it then doesn’t say what the specific type of work the taskforce is empowered to do”.

The lack of clarity is further problematised by the fact that the role of the PTF overlaps existing law and order agencies set up to handle these matters. The PTF appears to be superseding these agencies, raising concerns over accountability as if public officials fail to comply with orders from the task force they will be reported to the President.

 

Corruption

Gunaratne has maintained that there will be immediate punitive measures for prison, law enforcement and other officials abusing their position.

Commenting on the issue of corruption he said:

“When we were in the military academy, we were taught that the most dangerous enemy is the enemy within. We now need to identify and confirm the enemy within us to eradicate drug menace. Otherwise, it will be a futile effort,”

However, there are concerns that the Rajapaksa administration will engage in political targeting.   

Following the appointment of Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the Presidency, top organised crime investigator Nishantha Silva fled the island. He was reported to have fled due to fears over his own security. Last year an assassination plot led by the Sri Lankan navy against Silva was uncovered by the CID.

Silva, fled to Switzerland in November 2019, had been credited with pushing through several high-profile cases implicating military and state personnel, including the abduction of 11 youths, with 13 navy personnel arrested in connection with the case and senior navy officials pending investigation. He had also been investigating the death of a Tamil detainee in police custody, as well as the assassination of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Read more from the Colombo Page.