UN experts call on Sri Lanka to immediately suspend and review “Yukthiya” anti-drug operation

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UN experts expressed alarm at the heavy security-driven approach of Sri Lanka’s drug response, and they called on authorities to immediately suspend and review the so-called Operation “Yukthiya” and to focus on policies based on health and human rights, a statement from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on January 22, 2024 said.

“Drug users have human rights,” the experts said. “They deserve to live a life with dignity without facing further discrimination and stigmatization.”

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 centers. Torture and ill-treatment were also reported during the security operation known as “Yukthiya”.

“The current context of severe repression against suspected drug offenders is deeply worrying,” the experts said.

They 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 centers 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.

They urged Sri Lankan authorities to investigate thoroughly and impartially any allegations of torture, ill-treatment and denial of due process and fair trial rights.

“Irregularities in the judicial process of sending people to rehabilitation centers should also be investigated,” the experts said.

They called on the Government to review its current legislation on drug offenses and to end the involvement of armed forces in drug control and treatment activities, in line with international human rights law and standards.