February 22, 2020
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    War against drugs :Lessons from the Philippines

    January 25, 2019

    Within hours of President Maithripala Sirisena’s announcement that he would commence a new phase in the fight against narcotic drugs, the able sleuths of anti-narcotics bureau of the police detected a huge amount of heroin and arrested suspects including two American nationals who masterminded an international drug mafia at a luxurious housing complex in the heart of Colombo. That alone is a proof of the utmost seriousness of the drug issue as President always stressed in no uncertain terms.

    President Sirisena, in his speech at the launch of National Drug Eradication Week at the Vidyananda Vidyalaya, Mulliyawalai in Mullaithivu on January 21, vowed to carry out death penalty in respect of those who had been found guilty of narcotic offences and continue drug operations from the death cell in prison. On the following day the elite Special Task Force (STF) and the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), in a joint operation arrested those five suspects, including two US passport holders and an Afghan national with over 100 kilos of heroin with a street value of approximately Rs. 600 million.

    The police pointed out that a foreigner had never been arrested in Sri Lanka for directly transferring heroin before. Initial investigations have revealed that the apartment, used by the Americans, had been rented by a Turkish couple for a period of two months. The police are looking for the Turkish couple.

    Drug smugglers

    Last month a 23-year old Bangladeshi woman was arrested by the Police Narcotic Bureau with 32 kgs of heroin valued at around Rs. 388 million in Ratmalana. The woman was identified as Surjo Moni and was produced in the Mount Lavinia Magistrate’s Court and remanded. Further investigations resulted in the arrest of five more Bangladeshis, including two women involved in drug smuggling in Sri Lanka. Bangladesh extended fullest cooperation to Sri Lanka to investigate into the drug smuggling and sent a team of officials to assist. Bangladesh High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, M Reaz Hamidullah said that his country always maintains a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism and drugs. “It would extend all possible cooperation to Sri Lanka to investigate the drug smuggling,” he said.

    President Sirisena, in his speech in Mullaithivu reiterated that he would not have any mercy on drug smugglers who are destroying the younger generation of the country. “We have many government institutes connected to this, but the smugglers somehow finds a way to bring in drugs into our country. You must have seen that in the recent times our officers were able to arrest drugs worth crores. In appreciation of their work we are going to honour them by presenting them with awards in January 28,” he said.

    He referred to the recent visit to the Philippines and said he gained some new ideas and knowledge about the drug eradication campaign. The Philippine was a country that was being gradually ruined due to the drug addiction among youth. President Rodrigo Duterte launched a massive campaign on a war footing to eradicate drug menace. In the campaign several thousands of drug smugglers were killed and there were strong criticism from the human rights groups regarding this ruthless campaign.

    However, President Sirisena said while he was not going to do the things which have been done by the Philippines President, he would take stern action against culprits within the legal system. “Some NGO personnel who brag about the human rights always take the side of the drug smugglers. In Philippine, I told that Philippines President is an example for the presidents of the world. I happened to see that world human rights organisation had stated that Sri Lankan President discourages the human rights and one news paper highlighted that I should be punished at the Hague Court,” he pointed out.

    Human rights organisations

    The so-called champions of human rights who make big fuss, have no programme to make the country rescue from this catastrophe and in fact the drug traffickers are being sheltered by the human rights people, President Sirisena charged. “I am not here to give up this battle of drug eradication bowing down before human rights organisations. I dare human rights organisations to peel off their masks and extend their hands towards drug eradication movement to look after the children of this country.”

    On July 25, Cabinet approved a proposal to put convicted drug dealers who are on the death row to death if they continue to do indulge in drug trafficking. However, President Sirisena said in Mullaithivu that the files of convicted drug dealers have been withheld or disappeared from prisons, sabotaging his decision to activate death penalty on them.

    The Justice and Prison Reforms Ministry issued a time line on the process it adopted to implement the death penalty on death row prisoners on drug related crimes.

    On October 2, two out of 18 were confirmed for immediate implementation of death on October 3, the list of death row prisoners recommended for immediate implementation of death was sent by the Ministry. Another name of a death row prisoner was confirmed for death on October 13.

    A discussion was held by President Sirisena with officials of the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms on the death row prisoners list. The Justice Ministry has sent another list of 48 death row prisoners who have been convicted on drug related crimes, while 30 out of them have filed appeals against the convictions.

    “I have not changed my mind about the decision to give the drug traffickers the capital punishment. There are hundreds of drug traffickers in prison facing death penalty. I will not give up on this programme. Are you telling me to let go those smugglers who cause damage to children, country and the nation,” he asked.

    It will not be an easy decision to make to carry out capital punishment.

    However, the leaders have to take tough decisions in the larger good of the people. It is the responsibility of the leaders to safeguard the people, especially the young generation vulnerable to illicit drugs.

    On this important issue, President Sirisena deserves the support of the whole nation to implement death penalty, at least for a brief period as a deterrent.

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