Sri Lanka Table of Contents
Because of the traditionally accepted roles of both opium and hashish in indigenous ayurvedic medicine, the population of Sri Lanka has historically been tolerant of the use of a variety of psychoactive drugs (see Health , ch. 2). As a result, the government has been slow to identify drug abuse as an issue meriting national attention, and until the late 1970s, no efforts were made to quantify the problem. In 1978 the Narcotics Advisory Board of Sri Lanka coordinated the first systematic field investigation of drug abuse. The survey revealed that opium, cannabis, and barbiturates were the drugs most commonly used for nonmedical purposes, and that the majority of drug abusers were under forty years old (for cannabis, 48 percent were between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five). Between 1975 and 1979, an average of 4,000 persons per year were arrested for drug-related offenses, while an additional 3,000 people sought help for drug problems. A 1980 government survey estimated between 3,500 and 5,800 opium dependents and between 16,000 and 18,000 chronic cannabis users. Based on the World Health Organization conversion factor of ten actual drug abusers for every one identified, the government estimated a total usage level as high as 1.5 percent of the population.
The delayed appearance of drug abuse among the issues of national concern is reflected in the state of antidrug legislation. As of 1981, one of the major statutes on the books was the Poisons, Opium, and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. Although it has been amended several times since its enactment in 1929, the ordinance was seriously outdated for a society in the 1980s. It divides drugs into five categories (poisons; poppy, coca, and hemp; opium; dangerous drugs; and other drugs) and regulates their import, export, and domestic trade. Rather than attempting to define dangerous drugs, the ordinance simply appends a list of forbidden substances, and this has permitted greater flexibility in amending the law to suit changes in society. More recent efforts to regulate drug abuse include the Cosmetics, Devices, and Drugs Act of 1980, which requires companies trading legal drugs to obtain a license from the director of health services. This provision has given an important avenue for the authorities to monitor the import and export of pharmaceuticals. In spite of the government's efforts to eliminate illegal drugs, the strong Buddhist constituency has insisted on the legitimacy of traditional medical practices, and the Ayurvedic Act of 1961 assures ayurvedic physicians of continued legal access to opium. Because drug addiction in Sri Lanka has been far less prevalent than in the West, and because terrorism and insurgency have strained to the utmost the nation's security assets, a concerted campaign on illegal substance abuse is likely to await a return to normal conditions in the country.
* * *
As this chapter goes to press, the security crisis in Sri Lanka is more appropriately the subject of current events than of history; the analyses of scholarly journals are quickly outpaced by happenings in the field. Recent changes in the structure of the nation's legal and military institutions have yet to be reflected in any major monographs, and, as a result, this study has relied to an unusual degree on the piecemeal reportage of daily newspapers and weekly magazines.
The most comprehensive survey of the nation's armed forces appears in a special report by G. Jacobs in the July 1985 issue of Asian Defence Journal. Entitled "Armed Forces of Sri Lanka," the report deals with the strength, organization, training, and equipment of the three armed services and the police, and provides valuable information on the difficulties that the security forces have faced in dealing with the insurgency. For treatment of the Tamil separatist movement, Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam's "The Tamil `Tigers' In Northern Sri Lanka: Origins, Factions, Programmes" (Internationales Asienforum) and Robert Kearney's "Ethnic Conflict and the Tamil Separatist Movement In Sri Lanka" (Asian Survey) provide excellent background material on the origins and organization of the insurgency. Hellmann-Rajanayagam focuses more on the composition and leadership of the individual groups, while Kearney delves into the political environment that gave rise to the movement. S.J. Tambiah's Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy focuses on the anti-Tamil riots of July 1983 and offers insights into the role of the government and the armed forces in intensifying the ethnic conflict. Similar background material on the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna appears in A.C. Alles' Insurgency--1971. The author was himself a member of the Criminal Justice Commissions that investigated the uprising, and his blow-by-blow account, although sometimes excessively detailed, provides a fascinating picture of the rebel group--its ideology, leadership, and the haphazard nature of its attempt to seize power.
The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices offers an annual update on the treatment of prisoners and the effect of the emergency regulations and antiterrorist provisions on the administration of criminal justice. Information on the nation's prison system appears in the annual proceedings of the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators published by the Australian Institute of Criminology. In his report to the first, third and sixth conferences, the Sri Lankan Commissioner of Prisons, J.P. Delgoda, summarizes the major changes of the previous year and offers information on the structure of the prison administration, the treatment of women and minors, and the vocational training program. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of October 1988
Sri Lanka Table of Contents