This practice runs counter to beliefs of Muslims and other minorities in Sri Lanka, they say
The United Nations human rights experts have urged the government of Sri Lanka to end its policy of forced cremation of those who died from Covid-19.
The policy that has drawn criticism from different quarters runs contrary to the beliefs of Muslims and other minorities in the country, and could foment existing prejudices, intolerance and violence, they said, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva on Monday.
The experts are Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and association; and Tlaleng Mofokeng, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
“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,” says the statement.
As of January 21, 274 Covid-19 related deaths have been reported in Sri Lanka, with a significant number of the deaths belonging to Muslim minorities. All of the bodies were cremated according to the fourth amendment of the Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on Covid-19 suspected and confirmed patients issued on March 31, 2020.
The decision to make cremation mandatory followed alleged expert advice, including by the chief epidemiologist who claimed that burials could contaminate ground drinking water. However, the World Health Organization has reiterated there is no evidence to suggest that cremation prevents the spread of the disease, 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.
“While we must be alert to the serious public health challenges posed by the pandemic, Covid-19 measures must respect and protect the dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions, or beliefs, and their families throughout,” the statement read.
“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,” it added.
“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,” the statement said, adding that this would further negatively impact the public health measures to contain the pandemic.