UN human rights experts pressed the Sri Lankan Government to put an end to the forced cremation of the Covid-19 deceased, emphasizing that it is against the faiths and beliefs of the minor communities in the country. It warned that it could worsen the prevailing detriments, intolerance and violence.
The UN experts pointed out that providing cremation of the deceased due to the virus, as the only solution is a violation of human rights.
“The imposition of cremation as the only option for handling the bodies confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 amounts to a human rights violation. There has been no established medical or scientific evidence in Sri Lanka or other countries that burial of dead bodies leads to increased risk of spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19,” said the experts.
As per UN sources, 274 Covid-19 related deaths has been reported in Sri Lanka by 21st January 2021, with a majority of deaths belonging to Muslim minorities. All the bodies were cremated following the 4th amendment of the Provisional Clinical Practices Guidelines on Covid-19 suspected and confirmed patients issued on 31st March 2021.
Although the government decided to make cremation mandatory, following the expert advice of the chief epidemiologist who allegedly claimed that burying the deceased due to Covid-19 could contaminate ground drinking water, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated that there is no evidence to suggest that cremation prevents the spreading the virus, while the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Medical Association issued statements recently clarifying that there has been no proof that burial of COVID-19 dead bodies constitutes a public health hazard.
The UN experts also pointed out the necessity to respect traditions, cultural beliefs and to preserve the dignity of the dead when carrying out Covid-19 measures, while being on alert to the serious public health challenges posed by the pandemic.
They criticized the fact that minorities were forced to cremate the bodies of Covid-19 victims, against their will.
“We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country. Such hostility against the minorities exacerbates existing prejudices, intercommunal tensions, and religious intolerance, sowing fear and distrust while inciting further hatred and violence.”
“We are equally concerned that such a policy deters the poor and the most vulnerable from accessing public healthcare over fears of discrimination,” they added.
The experts noted that the President and Prime Minister had instructed the health authorities to explore options for burials in Sri Lanka. “However, we are concerned to learn that the recommendation to include both cremation and burial options for the disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims by a panel of experts appointed by the State Minister for Primary Health Services, Pandemics and COVID Prevention was reportedly disregarded by the Government,” they said.
“We hope that the report of local burial options by the main committee referred to by the Health Minister will be available soon and that the authorities will stop pursuing a burial solution in a foreign country.
“We strongly urge the Government of Sri Lanka to stop the forced cremation of COVID-19 bodies, to take all necessary measures to combat disinformation, hate speech and stigmatization of the Muslims and other minorities as a vector of the pandemic; and to provide remedy and ensure accountability for cremations that were carried out by error.”