A police and military raid in Jaffna earlier this month.
UN experts who are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have expressed alarm at the heavy security-driven approach of Sri Lanka’s anti-narcotics operation which has seen tens of thousands of people arrested do far.
In a statement released on the UNOHCHR website, the experts called on Sri Lankan authorities to immediately suspend and review the so-called Operation ‘Yukthiya’ and to focus on policies based on health and human rights.
“Drug users have human rights,” the experts said. “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.”
They deplored reported cases of arbitrary arrests of thousands of drug offenders from marginalized socio-economic groups and the detention of hundreds in compulsory military-run rehabilitation centres. Torture and ill-treatment were also reported during the security operation known as ‘Yukthiya’.
The group stressed that rehabilitation must be conducted from a harm reduction perspective, respecting the autonomy and informed consent of drug users, including the right to refuse medication.
“Compulsory rehabilitation centres should be closed immediately and replaced by voluntary, evidence-based, rights-based, and community-based social services,” said the experts, who stand ready to provide technical cooperation.
The ‘Yukthiya’ operation, launched on December 17 last year following the appointment of Tennakoon as the Acting IGP, has resulted in the arrest of over 30,000 individuals over drug-related matters, with allegations that some have been subjected to ill-treatment and torture. 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. Lawyers acting for those detained have alleged that they have faced intimidation from police officers.
Sri Lanka has pledged to continue with the raids, regardless of UN criticism.