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ID: HR23-68
Presenting author: Ambika Satkunanathan

Presenting author biography:

Ambika Satkunanathan is a human rights advocate who led the first national study of prisons in Sri Lanka, as a Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission. In her work on the rights of incarcerated persons, police brutality, drug control and treatment and militarisation, she adopts a multi-disciplinary approach.

The Process is the Punishment: Impact of Punitive and Carceral Approaches to Drug Control on Women

Ambika Satkunanathan
In August 2021, Broken System: A Study on Drug Control, Detention and Treatment of Persons Who Use Drugs in Sri Lanka was published by Harm Reduction International. The main findings of the study highlighted the shortcomings in the national legal framework and existing drug treatment processes. The study further illustrated the gaps in knowledge in how marginalized and discriminated against populations, such as women, are impacted by the deficiencies in the law and dysfunctional legal processes, the lack of support systems available to such groups and the coping mechanisms they adopt.

This paper will discuss the experiences of women incarcerated for drug offences, focusing on not only their experiences of the criminal justice system and the legal processes, but also the socio-economic factors that resulted in their incarceration. Moreover, the paper will document the challenges they faced upon being released from prison and the support mechanisms they require for social re-integration and to rebuild their lives. It will highlight the systemic and structural inequalities, both legal and socio-economic, that resulted in their incarceration and the resultant stigmatization and marginalization.

The findings of a public perception study on the death penalty in Sri Lanka will also be used, where relevant, to illustrate the social prejudices that prevent the adoption of a health and human rights-based approach to dealing with the use and sale of narcotics. The paper will conclude with recommendations for socio-economic and legal support for marginalised communities, in particular women, in conflict with the law in relation to drug offences, as well as propose strategies to advocate for required reforms. In particular, the paper will reiterate the need to adopt an approach that addresses the marginalisation caused by a punitive and carceral approach to discriminated against persons who are in conflict with the law in relation to drug offences.