November 16th, 2020
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of Human Rights Defenders, has expressed its concern over Sri Lankan authorities insisting on mandatory cremation for Muslims who die of or are suspected to have died of COVID, in violation of Islamic funeral practices.
In a statement, SAHR Chairperson Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy said that all those who have succumbed to the pandemic in Sri Lanka are cremated following the revised guidelines of the Ministry of Health on April 1, 2020. The guidelines require cremation to be mandatory in the disposal of bodies of persons who died of COVID . The Muslim community in Sri Lanka have continued to voice their concerns as cremation of mortal remains is not accepted in Islam.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), victims of COVID ‘can be buried or cremated.’ The WHO Interim Guidance on Infection Prevention and Control for the Safe Management of a Dead Body related to COVID 19 states that ‘cadavers do not transmit disease” and cremation is a matter of cultural choice. Reportedly, more than 180 countries have followed appropriate guidelines to bury the remains of their citizens who have died of COVID. There has not been any adverse impact by such burials, and even South Asian countries with a high death toll such as India, or countries with a small land area such as Maldives have allowed burial, in keeping with health guidelines, SAHR said.
Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy appreciated the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s directive to the health authorities to look into the possibility of allocating dry land for the purpose of burial rights of Muslims who have died of COVID in accordance with international standards. SAHR said that it is of utmost importance that relevant authorities look into this matter immediately and adhere to WHO guidelines on the burial of dead bodies of persons confirmed or suspected to have been infected with the virus. The mandatory cremation stipulated by the Sri Lankan Ministry Of Health is a violation of religious and cultural rights of the Muslims in the country, it said.
The SAHR noted that during these difficult times when people are struggling with numerous issues related to the pandemic, the government should be more attentive to the sensitivities of all citizens and respect their rights. The human rights body urged the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate measures to remedy this anomaly in the provisions of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance strictly adhering to the international guidelines while respecting freedoms and rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.