Tens of Thousands of Drug Arrests Reported in Sri Lanka Since December

Tens of Thousands of Drug Arrests Reported in Sri Lanka Since December
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Thousands of arrests of drug users and drug dealers have been reported in Sri Lanka in less than two months.

According to reporting by the Associated Press, Sri Lankan authorities have initiated a crackdown operation on the drug trade in a country known widely for its role as an international narcotics trafficking hub. This crackdown, known as “Operation Yukthiya” which means justice, has been responsible for over 40,000 arrests since December of 2023. This is according to acting police chief Deshabandu Tennakoon, who also told the Associated Press that 65% of the drug trade in the entire country of Sri Lanka has been dismantled with the goal of complete elimination by month’s end.

These arrests were carried out as the result of nighttime raids using drug-sniffing dogs. These raids have targeted suspected addicts and people with previous records of drug-related arrests in addition to suspected traffickers. In the first weeks of the crackdown, the BBC reported that over 1,000 suspected drug addicts had been forcibly sent to rehabilitation centers run by the Sri Lankan military.

“These arrests [have] been made very arbitrarily. There is no reasonable suspicion, the kind of people arrested have a lower marginalized economic status,” said Thiyagi Ruwanpathirana, a researcher for Amnesty International Sri Lanka to Reuters. “The way in which the operations are carried out – there [are] cavity searches, strip searches in public, some of which are televised – it is really giving a lot of concern for human rights organizations.”

Operation Yukthiya has been heavily criticized by the United Nations for potential human rights violations in what they described as a “heavy-handed” operation which has resulted in about 5,000 detentions out of the tens of thousands of arrests made. The Associated Press also indicated there had been reports of torture carried out by Sri Lankan authorities.

“While drug use presents a serious challenge to society, a heavy-handed law enforcement approach is not the solution. Abuse of drugs and the factors that lead to it are first and foremost public health and social issues,” the United Nations said.

Sri Lankan authorities have vowed to continue Operation Yukthiya based on reports that more schoolchildren are using drugs and drug-related crimes are increasing in Sri Lanka, most of which involve heroin, cannabis, and cannabis hashish, according to the BBC. Public Security Minister Tiran Alles has said the United Nations should identify specific instances of human rights violations and that Sri Lankan police have been ordered to follow the law.

“We will not stop this operation. We will go ahead and we will do it the same way because we know that we are doing something good for the children of this country, for the women of this county and that is why the general public is whole-heartedly with us in these operations,” Alles said.

During the first week of Operation Yukthiya, BBC reported over 15,000 arrests were made and over 470 kilograms of various types of drugs were seized. Vehicles and other possessions of suspected criminals were also seized in the operation. The searches were, mercifully, put on hold for the Christmas holiday but continued in full-force shortly thereafter.

Sri Lanka made over 97,000 drug-related arrests in 2020 according to Reuters who cited the Sri Lanka National Dangerous Drugs Control Board. 53% of these arrests were for heroin and 42% for cannabis, many of which were simple possession offenses. 

“Sri Lanka’s strategic geographical position and proximity to countries which produce opium and heroin on a large scale make it convenient for traffickers to smuggle drugs into Sri Lanka,” said a 1998 report on the Sri Lankan approach to drug enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice. “ In 1984, an amendment to the Poisons, Opium, and Dangerous Drugs Act introduced the death penalty for the violation of certain sections of the act. Anyone found guilty of possessing over 2 grams of heroin is liable to be sentenced to death. Heroin traffic is aggravated by the heavy involvement of Sri Lankan Tamils (a terrorist group) in the narcotics trade to Western European countries.”



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