A shift in narcotics trafficking patterns from land-based routes across the Central Asian region to maritime channels and Colombo becoming a strategic hub have prompted the Government to sign an agreement with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In terms of the agreement, the UNODC will “develop mechanisms and provide support” with the help of foreign navies to help Sri Lanka accept a limited number of vessels and crew detained in the high seas and found to be in possession of large quantities of heroin. Sri Lanka will be entitled to consider each request on a case by case basis. The UNODC will ensure that support is provided both in anticipation of “the first transfer and during the trial process.”
The Government believes the move would deal a blow to foreign drug lords who use Sri Lanka as a base both to smuggle drugs for the local market and for transshipment. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also Minister of Defence, won the approval of his Cabinet of Ministers for the latest initiative. It comes in the backdrop of periodic detections of large quantities of heroin in the recent months.
President Rajapaksa noted that officials of the Maritime Crime Programme (MCP) of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) undertook a Needs Assessment mission to Sri Lanka in February this year. It was to explore opportunities for collaboration and ascertain areas in which UNODC could extend support on combatting narcotics trafficking on the high seas of the Indian Ocean.
He has said that two consultative meetings were convened by the Ministry of Defence with related stakeholders on narcotics trafficking on the high seas. It had been chaired by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The participating stakeholders included External Affairs Ministry Secretary Kshenuka Seneviratne, Justice Ministry Secretary Kamalini de Silva, representatives of the Attorney General’s Department, the Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, the Director General of Customs and representatives of the Sri Lanka Police, Sri Lanka Navy, Sri Lanka Coast Guard and State Intelligence Service (SIS) among others.
Following the “interactions a request was made to the UNODC to submit a proposal detailing the process and support that can be provided for the prosecution of narcotics traffickers on the high seas,” President Rajapaksa has added.