UN Experts Alarmed by Sri Lanka’s Heavy-Handed Drug Response, Call for Immediate Suspension of Operation ‘Yukthiya’

Geneva, 22 January 2024 – United Nations experts have raised serious concerns over Sri Lanka’s aggressive security-driven approach to combat drug-related issues, urging authorities to suspend and review Operation ‘Yukthiya’ immediately. The experts emphasized the need for a shift towards policies centered on health and human rights, condemning the reported arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of thousands of drug offenders from marginalized groups.

In a joint statement, the UN experts underscored the fundamental human rights of drug users, asserting that they deserve to lead lives free from discrimination and stigmatization. The statement expressed alarm at the reported instances of torture and ill-treatment during the security operation, emphasizing the worrying context of severe repression against suspected drug offenders.

The experts called for rehabilitation efforts to be conducted from a harm reduction perspective, respecting the autonomy and informed consent of drug users. They vehemently advocated for the closure of compulsory military-run rehabilitation centers, urging their replacement with voluntary, evidence-based, rights-based, and community-focused social services. The experts offered their readiness to provide technical cooperation in this regard.

The UN experts pressed Sri Lankan authorities to thoroughly and impartially investigate any allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and denial of due process and fair trial rights. They specifically highlighted concerns about irregularities in the judicial process leading to the placement of individuals in rehabilitation centers.

A significant call was made to review existing legislation on drug offenses, with an emphasis on ending the involvement of armed forces in drug control and treatment activities. The experts stressed the importance of aligning national practices with international human rights law and standards.

This latest statement follows concerns raised by the experts in a letter to the Sri Lankan Government in 2023, where they had already expressed reservations about the country’s legislation on the treatment of suspected drug offenders.

The experts involved in this statement are Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila from the Working Group on arbitrary detention; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; and Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. They form part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, operating on a voluntary basis and independent of any government or organization.

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