UN rights chief deeply concerned over Sri Lanka’s anti-drug operation

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised deep concerns about the ongoing anti-drug operation ‘Yukthiya’ in Sri Lanka, stating that the authorities are adopting a ‘heavily security-based response’ to the country’s drug problem.

In a statement on Friday (Jan.12), the UN human rights chief Volker Türk noted that the authorities should instead adopt a response based on public health policies grounded in human rights.

“A staggering 29,000 people have reportedly been arrested on drug related matters since 17 December, 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 a number of 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.”

While acknowledging that drug use presents a serious challenge to society, the UN human rights chief said the ‘heavy-handed law enforcement’ approach is not the solution. He noted that drug abuse and the factors that lead to it are first and foremost public health and social issues.

Raising alarm about the reports of violations concerning the operation, Türk said people suspected of selling or trafficking drugs are entitled to humane treatment, with full respect for due process and transparent, fair trials.

Türk said people who use drugs should be provided with appropriate support and programs that address the root causes of addiction and assist their reintegration into society. He urged the Sri Lankan government to refer the UN Human Rights Office last year issued a report calling on States to develop effective drug policies, including by considering the decriminalisation of drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use.

The UN rights chief urged the Sri Lankan government to review the “Yukthiya” operation and to implement human rights-based approaches, notably the right to health, to address the illicit drugs-related issues prevalent in society.

“Allegations of abuse of authority, torture and ill-treatment and denial of due process and fair trial rights must be thoroughly and impartially investigated, and justice must be served.”

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