UN experts have expressed alarm at the heavy security-driven approach of Sri Lanka’s drug response.

They called on authorities to immediately suspend and review so-called Operation ‘Yukthiya’ and to focus on policies based on health and human rights.

“Drug users have human rights,” the experts said.

“They deserve to live a life with dignity without facing further discrimination and stigmatisation.”

They deplored reported cases of arbitrary arrests of thousands of drug offenders from marginalised socio-economic groups, and the detention of hundreds in compulsory military-run rehabilitation centres.

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 centres 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 rehabilitations centres should also be investigated,” the experts said.

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

The experts raised concerns about Sri Lanka’s legislation on the treatment of suspected drug offenders in a letter sent to the Government in 2023.

The UN experts include Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila, 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.

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