Skip links

UN Experts Express Grave Concerns Over Sri Lanka’s Heavy-Handed Drug Response

In a stern rebuke, a group of United Nations (UN) experts has voiced deep apprehension regarding Sri Lanka’s approach to combating drug-related issues, denouncing the security-centric strategy adopted by the authorities. The experts, including Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur) and Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), are part of the Working Group on arbitrary detention and other independent fact-finding bodies under the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

The experts called for the immediate suspension and comprehensive review of ‘Operation Yukthiya,’ urging Sri Lankan authorities to shift focus towards policies centered on health and human rights. Emphatically stating that “drug users have human rights,” they advocated for the right to a dignified life free from discrimination and stigmatization.

Expressing dismay over reported instances of arbitrary arrests, particularly targeting marginalized socio-economic groups, and the detention of hundreds in military-run rehabilitation centers, the experts highlighted cases of torture and ill-treatment during the ‘Yukthiya’ security operation.

“The current context of severe repression against suspected drug offenders is deeply worrying,” warned the experts, underlining the need for rehabilitation from a harm reduction perspective. They stressed the importance of respecting the autonomy and informed consent of drug users, including their right to refuse medication.

The experts called for the immediate closure of compulsory rehabilitation centers and their replacement with voluntary, evidence-based, rights-based, and community-centric social services. Offering technical cooperation, they urged Sri Lankan authorities to thoroughly investigate allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and violations of due process and fair trial rights.

Highlighting irregularities in the judicial process leading to the placement of individuals in rehabilitation centers, the experts urged a comprehensive investigation into these practices.

In a broader call to action, the experts urged the Sri Lankan Government to review existing legislation on drug offenses and cease the involvement of armed forces in drug control and treatment activities. This recommendation aligns with international human rights law and standards.

The experts initially raised concerns about Sri Lanka’s legislation on the treatment of suspected drug offenders in a letter to the government in 2023. The group includes 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.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups operate as part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, constituting the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. Acting on a voluntary basis, these experts are not UN staff, receiving no salary for their work, and remain independent from any government or organization, serving in their individual capacity.

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.