South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of Human Rights Defenders, expresses its concern over Sri Lankan authorities insisting on mandatory cremation for Muslims who die of or are suspected to have died of COVID- 19, in violation of Islamic funeral practices.
All those who have succumbed to the corona virus pandemic in Sri Lanka are cremated following the revised guidelines dated 31 March 2020 and the Ministry of Health (MoH) Circular no EPID/400/2019 n-Cov issued on 1 April 2020 requiring cremation to be mandatory in the disposal of bodies of persons who died of the corona virus. 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 the corona virus. 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 commends President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s directive to the health authorities to look into the possibility of allocating a dry land for the purpose of burial rights of Muslims who have died of corona virus in accordance with international standards. SAHR believes 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 MoH is a violation of religious and cultural rights of the Muslims in the country.
SAHR notes 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.
SAHR firmly urges 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.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR),
Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr Roshmi Goswami