Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission concerned over alleged human rights abuses in ‘Yukthiya’ Operation

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has expressed deep concern on Monday (January 08) over alleged human rights abuses in the recent ‘Yukthiya’ Operation (an anti-narcotics operation) conducted by the Sri Lanka Police and the Ministry of Public Security.

In a release, it said the Commission is particularly disturbed by reports of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during search operations, prompting an immediate inquiry into these claims.

The statement released by HRCSL is as follows:

The ‘Yukthiya’ Operation, launched with the objective of combating drug trafficking and organized crime, has reportedly led to the arrest of over 20,000 suspects in just a two-week span from December 17 to December 31, 2023. While acknowledging the importance of addressing organized crime and narcotics trafficking, the Human Rights Commission has received numerous complaints of torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrests, and detentions associated with the operation.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has also expressed serious concerns about the operation, and the Commission notes that the operation’s association with reports of widespread injustice contradicts its very title, ‘Yukthiya,’ meaning ‘justice’ in Sinhala.

The Commission emphasizes that every person in Sri Lanka has a fundamental right to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution. This right is considered absolute and inalienable, and police officers are expected to uphold this right by treating suspects with dignity at all times.

The backdrop of these reports is a broader context where the Human Rights Commission has received over 200 complaints of torture in 2023 alone. Complicating matters, individuals accused of torture continue to hold office despite recent Supreme Court pronouncements finding them responsible and ordering compensation for victims.

On December 21, 2023, the Human Rights Commission wrote to the Honorable Attorney-General urging the prosecution of these officers. In response, dated December 28, 2023, the Attorney-General assured the Commission that “necessary steps have been taken by [the Attorney-General’s] Department” in cases where the Supreme Court directed action against those responsible for acts of torture.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has expressed grave concerns on Monday (8th) over Operation Yukthiya, the ongoing anti-narcotics drive that has seen over 20,000 people arrested within two weeks.

The Commission said that it “is disturbed to learn of reports of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of persons, including young persons, during search operations conducted by the police.”

“The Commission notes that the continued implementation of the ‘Yukthiya’ Operation with the professed object of advancing ‘justice’ remains incongruous, given the systemic failure of law enforcement authorities in Sri Lanka to uphold justice and to respect the fundamental rights of the People,” the HRCSL said in a statement.

The Commission warned that “the Constitution guarantees to every person the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, the right not to be deprived of liberty except on the order of a judge, the right to a fair trial, and the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty respectively. The overzealous arrest and detention of persons, the seizure and destruction of private property, and the forced search of persons and premises under the guise of combating drug trafficking and organised crime risk the systematic infringement of these fundamental rights across the country.”

The HRCSL further noted that the spate of arrests and detentions under Yukthiya will no doubt exacerbate the problem of overcrowding of prisons.