ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s authorities are being slammed by Amnesty International for not respecting the rights of religious minorities and cremating the remains of Muslim COVID 19 victims, a statement from the Human Rights Watchdog said.
“Two of the early COVID-19-related deaths in Sri Lanka have been those of Muslims who were forcibly cremated on the instructions of the authorities and against the wishes of the deceased’s families,” the statement said.
As EconomyNext reported the authorities decided to cremate the remains of the victim who died at the Negombo hospital because the water table in the Negombo cemetery was too high for a deep burial as required by the Judicial Medical Officer for highly contagious corpse officials said.
However, the family of the deceased opposed the cremation at the time.
“At this difficult time, the authorities should be bringing communities together and not deepening divisions between them. Grieving relatives of people who have died because of COVID-19 should be able to bid farewell to their loved ones in the way that they wish, especially where this is permissible under international guidelines,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International.
Amnesty said “the World Health Organization’s guidelines for the safe management of a dead body in the context of Covid-19 allows for either burials or cremations and this position was mirrored in the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health guidelines issued on 27 March 2020. On 31 March, the Sri Lankan guidelines were revised to exclusively order cremations for people who die or are suspected to have died as a result of contracting the COVID-19 virus.”
This is incorrect as the current guidelines does allow burial and the Director-General Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe is on record as saying that burial is allowed.
Amnesty went on to say that the “forced cremations have resurfaced fears that Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority community is being targeted by the authorities. Last year, the authorities did not intervene to stop attacks on Muslim-owned shops and homes by violent mobs and emergency regulations were abused to ban women wearing the face veil, in the aftermath of the 21 April bombings by an Islamist armed group that killed more than 250 people in attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka.”
“Given the underlying religious and cultural sensitivities, Amnesty International urges the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that religious rites and practices are respected as far as possible and in line with international guidelines; and any changes to guidelines involve prior consultation with the affected community.”
“COVID-19 does not discriminate between groups. Its victims include people of all faiths and none. As it strikes almost every country in the world, the virus is showing that we are united by our common humanity. The only way to deal with this crisis is as one, united in our support for the health workers on the frontlines and people from all backgrounds who are at risk during the pandemic,” said Biraj Patnaik.