The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) expresses deep concern about the ‘Yukthiya’ Operation, a two-week police crackdown on organized crime and drug trafficking. While its stated objective is noble, reports of widespread human rights violations paint a disturbing picture.

Excessive Arrests and Torture Allegations:

The operation saw over 20,000 arrests in just two weeks, raising concerns about due process and potential arbitrariness. Moreover, the HRCSL received numerous complaints of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, particularly against young individuals. This violation of Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, guaranteeing freedom from torture, is especially egregious given the over 200 torture complaints already received in 2023.

Impunity and Failure to Uphold Justice:

Despite Supreme Court pronouncements holding police officers accountable for torture and ordering compensation, perpetrators continue to hold office. This culture of impunity undermines the very idea of ‘Yukthiya,’ meaning ‘justice’ in Sinhala. The Attorney General’s recent assurance of ‘necessary steps’ against such officers offers hope, but concrete action is needed.

Right to Life and Custodial Deaths:

The right to life, implicitly recognized by Article 13(4), applies to everyone, including suspects. Yet, custodial and encounter deaths remain a serious concern, with six and two such deaths respectively in the first half of 2023. The Minister of Public Security’s statement advocating ‘maximum force’ against drug traffickers further raises troubling concerns about potential extrajudicial executions.

Fundamental Rights and Privacy Violations:

Overzealous arrests, property seizures, and forced searches risk systematic infringement of the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, fair trial, and presumption of innocence, enshrined in Article 13(1), (2), (3), and (5). Additionally, media presence during police operations and broadcasts of arrest footage violate the right to privacy, contravening the HRCSL’s advice and potentially inviting legal action against media institutions.

Prison Overcrowding and Lack of Justice Reform:

The ‘Yukthiya’ operation’s mass arrests will exacerbate prison overcrowding, hindering progressive reforms and alternatives to remand currently being considered. Justice demands meaningful reform of law enforcement to ensure public safety while respecting fundamental rights.

Call to Action:

The HRCSL urges the President, the Public Security Minister, and the Sri Lankan government to shift their focus towards meaningful law enforcement reform. Addressing the culture of impunity, promoting accountability, and upholding human rights are crucial steps towards achieving true justice and public safety within the framework of the rule of law.

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