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Saturday July 20th, 2024

Truth, In The Face Of Cremation

BITTER MEMORIES – Workers clearing up after a Muslim shop in the Minuwangoda market was vandalized and set on fire 3 weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks/Pathum Dhananjajana – EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s expected fallout with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva is serious. The Government is looking for a scapegoat to blame the fallout on someone, and this year it is likely to be blamed on the Muslims because of the cremation controversy. The Government could sail through the next two years with this rhetoric, making the man on the street forget the other issues that weigh him down.

It is expected that the Organization of Islamic Countries will vote against the resolution brought in by the core group at OHCHR and will favour Sri Lanka. Many civil activists see this as a repeat of the treachery to democracy by the six MPs from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress. This infamous six who are seen as betrayers of Democracy for casting their vote for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution are today like the Areca nut, stuck between the blades of its cutter.

Ironically, geopolitics between India, Pakistan and China will be the deciding factor and not religion, which will determine burial rights for Sri Lankan citizens. Imran Khan is expected today 23rd and the Muslim community pinned on him their hopes on gaining their legitimate right to bury their Covid dead. Imran Khan’s loud rhetoric on Islamophobia by the West is being put to the test in Sri Lanka, and his stand on Muslim burial rights will expose him to the world when his Islamic stand may be compromised for geopolitical reasons. There is no doubt about his ability to garner the support of the Organization of Islamic Countries and it is believed that his visit is to discuss the strategy in Geneva this February and March 2021. Muslims and even Christians wait with bated breath to see if his visit would result in them being able to bury their loved ones, or their hope will be cremated. Will the Rajapaksa Government offer him a Muslim burial on a bouquet or a wreath. That’s a million-dollar question for Muslims in Sri Lanka.

IMPORTANT VISIT – Imran Khan Prime Minister of Pakistan champions Muslims around the world/Facebook.com

There is absolutely no science behind the denial of burial and even the Prime Minister had to eat humble pie after he announced in Parliament that burial rights would be granted. The Technical Committee appointed by the Ministry of Health and headed by Dr Channa Perera seems to more powerful than the Prime Minister and the Parliament. What an insult to the illustrious political career of President Mahinda Rajapaksa spanning over fifty years.

The absolute majority of the 6.9 million who voted for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) did so only because of the experienced campaigner President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The nation expected him to retire after the disastrous defeat in 2015 when he contested the presidential elections, but the admirable warrior bounced back and led his party to victory by winning the elections for his younger sibling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution brought in by the Maithri-Ranil Government deprived him to contest the presidential election for the 3rd time. He proved his popularity and political acumen by re-entering Parliament as a Member and taking over as Prime Minister. However, one wonders if he kicked himself by introducing the 20th Amendment which stripped the power the Parliament had after the 19th Amendment.

Muslim bashing has been the modus operandi of political powers that held sway in Sri Lanka post-2009, starting from the Digana riots to the aftermath of the April 21st bombing in 2019. The last two elections saw probably the worst racist campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history. Muslims were barred from nominations except one who was close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This strategy worked, with 6.9 million voting them to power, influenced by racist ‘save the nation’ rhetoric spewed by certain politicians, monks and media, who had their own agenda to fulfil. The terror of 21/4 was apportioned fully on the entire Muslim community with the supposed links to ISIS by the bombers who had called themselves Muslim. The Muslims have never had any conflict with the Catholics and Christians in this country, and there was absolutely no Islamic cause for any terror by Muslims. The Muslim community even refused Islamic burial rites for the terrorists as Islam totally forbids killing innocents even during a war. They were buried by the authorities with no religious rites by the Muslim Community.

St Sebestian’s Church in Katuwapitiya minutes after the blast on Easter Sunday 2019/ WhatsApp image

With the Muslim bashing that was orchestrated, they rode to a comfortable victory at the Presidential elections, cashing in on the unfounded fear the election rhetoric whipped up, that Muslims will take over Sri Lanka if a strong government does not hold the reins of power.

With an impressive victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the Muslim bashing continued with campaigns for one country one law, depriving not only Muslims, but also other minorities of their personal laws which affected only their personal lives, and which did not impede on the Common Law which overrides all personal laws anyway.

With the COVID pandemic bringing the whole world to its knees, the racists found a new issue to attack the Muslims and Christians by denying the burial of Covid dead or suspected deaths due to Covid. Islam forbids cremation and insists that a body should be handled very gently and buried. With the forced cremation policy, nearly 300 Muslims have been denied their religious right of burial. All engagement with Government authorities by Muslim civil, religious and business groups have totally failed.

The first Muslim COVID death occurred on the 30th March 2020, and the Quarantine Act in force allowed burial or cremation. Some racist elements denied burial claiming that the Coronavirus can contaminate groundwater sources. In spite of the lack of scientific evidence for this unfounded belief and thousands dying of contagious diseases being buried throughout history, forced cremation still continues. Almost 300 Muslims have died of Covid so far, of over 350 plus Covid deaths in the country. The disproportionate numbers in relation to the demographics in the country indicate the need for research on another social issue that may be looming to haunt Sri Lanka.

A Muslim boy holds up a placard protesting the compulsory cremation of Covid dead/Journalists for Democracy

The COVID 19 virus was first identified in December 2019 and all the countries of the world allowed the burial of those who died of COVID-19 infection. The Ministry of Health Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients dated 27th March 2020 allowed for the burial of dead bodies under certain conditions.

Four days later, on 31st March this was changed, disallowing burial and requiring that all COVID-19 victims be cremated. (The Extraordinary Gazette notification no. 2170/8 of 11th April 2020.)

This denied the right for Muslims and Christians (and some from the Buddhist/Tamil communities) to bury their dead according to their religious teachings, cultural practices or personal wishes. This position of the Government is unscientific and absolutely wrong due to the following reasons.

The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION in its guidelines dated 24th March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly stated burial as one of the safe methods of disposal. The document states the claims that the virus spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through drinking water.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention of United States (CDC) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) have issued clear and extensive guidelines on handling dead bodies for cremation or burial.

On 24th December 2020, the Secretary to the Ministry of Health of the Sri Lanka Government appointed an EXPERTS TEAM of the country’s lead Immunologists, Virologists and Microbiologists to provide their recommendations on whether burial can be allowed.

The Experts Team in their report clearly stated that the virus cannot replicate in a dead body and the remaining virus would die over a period of time. It stated that the virus infection is not a water-borne disease, and therefore contamination of water is very remote. The Experts Team recommended cremation or burial with guidelines. They also emphasized that the dignity of the dead and their families should be respected and protected.

The COLLEGE OF COMMUNITY PHYSICIANS OF SRI LANKA (CCPSL), one of the leading medical institutions in their positional paper, voiced their specialist opinion. It stated that with more than 80 million global infection cases and 1.7 million deaths, there is no evidence in the nearly 85,000 published scientific literature on COVID-19 that the virus was transmitted through a dead body. Further, the spread of the virus directly through groundwater has not been scientifically substantiated. They concluded that cremation or burial should be allowed within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health. Each citizen of Sri Lanka should be allowed to be cremated or buried as per their wish and the family’s desire within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health.

The virus may spread first, if at all, through hospital sewage, waste from isolation and quarantine centres, and faecal-oral transmission, if it was to spread from dead bodies.

The SRI LANKA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (SLMA) another leading medical institution in their response to the issue of COVID 19 death management in Sri Lanka had expressed their views in favour of burial.

There are no reports of the virus being infective via groundwater. Even in the case of severe waterborne diseases like Cholera, the burial of infected dead bodies was allowed. It is unlikely that the virus could remain infectious within a dead body for any significant period of time. The Council of the Sri Lanka Medical Association is of the view that the burial of COVID-19 dead bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka.

Further, it stated that the disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies has affected ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. In view of the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka, it is essential to have a proper policy for the disposal of the dead which is acceptable to all. Almost 200 countries in the world have buried the COVID-19 infected dead bodies and are continuing to do so. There is not a single evidence that groundwater has been contaminated so far due to burying Covid dead.

UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (OHCHR)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its latest report dated 27 January 2021, titled ‘Sri Lanka on the alarming path towards a recurrence of grave human rights violations, reports as follows:

“The UN High Commissioner is deeply concerned by the trends emerging over the past year, which may represent early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation. With regard to burial, the High Commissioner notes that WHO guidance stresses that “cremation is a cultural choice.”

As stated above, the World Health Organization in its guidelines dated 24 March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly laid down that burial as one of the safe methods of disposal.

UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS – The following four UN Special Rapporteurs:

(i) Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;
(ii) the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
(iii) the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and,
(iv) the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Their communication to the President of Sri Lanka stated as follows:

“We are concerned that the amendment is inconsistent with the Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 guideline provided by the World Health Organization (WHO Guideline). Furthermore, we are concerned about the lack of consideration provided and the lack of sensitivity in the MoH Guideline to different communities and their religious and cultural practices.” The Special Rapporteurs reiterated the point that WHO Guideline provides that people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. (Annexure 9).

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF SRI LANKA

The Commission on 20 November 2020, highlighted that any restriction on a fundamental right, even at a time of crisis, must be imposed under strict justifications. It recommended permitting the burial of bodies of persons who succumb to the Covid-19 virus while adhering to required health guidelines. It also urged the Government to ensure compliance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. (Annexure 10).

CIVIL SOCIETY, RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AND CIVIL ORGANISATIONS

Recognized individuals consisting of professionals, academics, lawyers, specialists, intellects, reverend priests and 29 civil society organizations issued a statement urging the Government to permit the burial of the COVID-19 dead bodies.

They said that the Government’s ongoing forcible cremation policy without proper scientific evidence has caused much suffering and grievance to certain religious groups. The statement called upon the Government to enable those from religious minorities to bury their dead.

The above provides a synopsis of the ongoing human rights violation by the forced cremation policy of the Sri Lanka Government which is not based on science, hurting the sentiments of Muslims, Christians and other citizens who choose to bury their loved ones, and dangerously hindering peaceful coexistence in Sri Lanka. (Colombo, February 23, 2021)

By Hilmy Ahamed

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  1. Mubarak Mohammed says:

    Thank you Mr. Hilmy, for your valuable information based on real facts. I have just finished commenting in another article as below: FYI which you too has confirmed, simple short, should make sense to the health authorities of Sri Lanka. “Cholera is a water-borne disease whereas Covid-19 is Air-borne.”
    I feel the Sri Lanka authorities are now a bit concerned once the burial of Covid-19 victims started it will be proved beyond doubt that all previously forced cremation is a blatant error.

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  1. Mubarak Mohammed says:

    Thank you Mr. Hilmy, for your valuable information based on real facts. I have just finished commenting in another article as below: FYI which you too has confirmed, simple short, should make sense to the health authorities of Sri Lanka. “Cholera is a water-borne disease whereas Covid-19 is Air-borne.”
    I feel the Sri Lanka authorities are now a bit concerned once the burial of Covid-19 victims started it will be proved beyond doubt that all previously forced cremation is a blatant error.

Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC, responds to President on constitutional article 83

ECONOMYNEXT – Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel had responded to a statement made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe that Article 83 (b) of the constitution which has reference to a six year term was left alone not due to any ‘lapse’ on his part.

A Cabinet sub-committee headed by Premier Wickremesinghe was appointed to oversee the Nineteenth Amendment process.

The changes to the Constitution, were made by a team of legal officers of which he was member, overseen by a Cabinet sub-committee headed by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of 49 political parties and organisations headed by the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thero at Viharamaha Devi Park, in which he pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency altogether,” Wickramaratne explained.

“However, the very next day, he signed another MOU with the Jathika Hela Urumaya, in which he pledged not to make any constitutional change requiring a Referendum. Mr Sirisena’s election manifesto also stated that no constitutional reform necessitating a Referendum would be initiated.”

The Attorney General also made sure that there were no changes that required a referendum, he said. As a result Article 83 (b) was left as it was.

The full statement is reproduced below:

On President Wickremesinghe’s statement that not amending Article 83 was a lapse on my part

The President stated in Galle on 19 July 2024 that not reducing the upper limit of the term of the President and Parliament from six to five years while preparing the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was a lapse on my part due to my inexperience.

I wish to set the record straight.

Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of 49 political parties and organisations headed by the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thero at Viharamaha Devi Park, in which he pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency altogether.

However, the very next day, he signed another MOU with the Jathika Hela Urumaya, in which he pledged not to make any constitutional change requiring a Referendum. Mr Sirisena’s election manifesto also stated that no constitutional reform necessitating a Referendum would be initiated.

Soon after being sworn in, President Sirisena appointed Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. Constitutional affairs was Gazetted as a subject under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. A Cabinet sub-committee headed by Premier Wickremesinghe was appointed to oversee the Nineteenth Amendment process.

The five-member team that prepared the initial draft comprised three retired officials who had served in very senior positions in the Legal Draftsman’s Department, myself and another lawyer.

The entire drafting process was carried out on the basis that the Bill should not be placed for approval at a referendum, in keeping with President Sirisena’s electoral pledge. While the terms of the President and Parliament were proposed to be reduced from six to five years, the upper limit of six years was not touched as that would require a Referendum.

Article 83 of the Constitution mandates that a Bill that seeks to amend or is inconsistent with particular Articles listed or the said upper limits would be required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the People at a Referendum.

It is essential to note that Article 83 itself is included in the list of provisions requiring a Referendum. The several drafts prepared were all shared and discussed with the Cabinet sub-committee.

The draft finally approved by the Cabinet sub-committee was then sent to the Legal Draftsman, who took over as required by law and made some changes. It was then sent to the Attorney-General, who took the view that certain clauses, especially some that reduced the powers of the President, would require a Referendum. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had several meetings with the Attorney General to discuss the matter. I participated in one such meeting. Several changes had to be made to the Bill because of the Attorney-General’s position.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presented the Bill to Parliament. When it was challenged in the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General argued on behalf of the Government that no provision required a Referendum. The clauses that the Supreme Court held to require a Referendum were either amended or withdrawn in Parliament.

In light of the above, I regret that President Wickremesinghe has thought it fit to place the entire blame on me for not reducing the upper limits of the President’s and Parliament’s terms.

I reiterate that the entire amendment process was based on avoiding a Referendum following President Sirisena’s pledge at the Presidential election.

(Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Presidents Counsel
20 July 2024.

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Sri Lanka banking system foreign assets turn positive in May: analysis

ECONOMYNEXT – Net foreign assets of Sri Lanka’s banking system turned positive in May 2024, official data showed, amid a steady reduction in the negative reserve position of the central bank helped by the current interest rate structure and domestic credit.

In May the combined net foreign assets position of commercial banks and the central bank was about 311 million US dollars by May, up from a negative 178 million US dollars a month earlier, central bank data show.

It was made up of positive 1.9 billion US dollar foreign assets position in overseas banking units and a negative 811-million-dollar position which gave a positive NFA position of about 1.13 billion US dollars for banks.
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The central bank still had a negative position of about 821 million dollars by May, down from about 4.5 billion US dollars in last currency crises triggered by deploying liquidity tools (printing money) to cut rates.

The central bank has been collecting reserves for several months, except in June after a confidence shock from the flexible exchange rate and some injections made to keep rates down.

Analysts have warned that under flexible inflation targeting, where there are anchor conflicts, external imbalances will re-emerge when private credit recovers and money is printed to cut rates.

Printing after giving Reserves for Imports

Sri Lanka’s central bank ran up a negative foreign assets position, by spending dollars borrowed from the International Monetary Fund and from other central banks including in Bangladesh and India as well as domestic banks and spending them to suppress market interest rates and finance imports.

An ‘age-of-inflation’ (or age-of-BOP-deficit) central bank that spends reserve for imports, simultaneously prints money into banks, injecting excess rupee reserves to maintain an artificial policy rate, preventing the outflow of real resources to other countries being reflected in bank balance sheets.

The printing of money after spending reserves, or the sterilizing of an outflow, allow banks to give loans without deposits and trigger forex shortages.

To collect foreign assets, a central bank has to do the opposite, and sell its domestic asset portfolio down against dollars purchased from banks, at an appropriate interest rate, which will moderate domestic credit.

Modern IMF-prone reserve collecting central banks are able to mis-target rates beyond their reserves mostly with the aid of Central bank swaps.

Sri Lanka’s central bank also borrowed reserves from domestic banks through swaps, in a somewhat similar operation to the way Lebanon’s central bank borrowed dollars to show reserves instead of buying outright against domestic assets.

Borrowed Reserves

Central bank swaps were invented by the Federal Reserve to mis-target rates and avoid giving gold reserves as macro-economists printed money to target growth in the 1960s and the printed dollars boomeranged on itself from other Bretton Woods central banks that focused on stability.

RELATED Central bank swaps symptomatic of Sri Lanka’s IMF return tickets and default: Bellwether

By March 2022, before rates were hiked, negative reserve position of Sri Lanka’s central bank was around 4.0 billion US dollars.

The negative position worsened to around 4.5 billion US dollars by the third quarter of 2022, helped by credits from Reserve Bank of India, which allowed Sri Lanka to run arrears on Asian Clearing Union balances.

In addition to the swaps, Sri Lanka also had borrowings from the International Monetary Fund which contributed to the negative foreign assets position.

The IMF borrowings came from serial currency crises triggered in the course of money printing to enforce rate cuts and target growth (potential output) and generate twice to three times the level of inflation found in monetarily stable countries through ‘flexible’ inflation targeting.

The external sector started to balance only after ACU credits were stopped. It has since been turned into a swap and the central bank is paying it down steadily in the current interest rate structure.

Related Sri Lanka repays US$225mn to Reserve Bank of India in first quarter

Sri Lanka was unable to use a People’s Bank of China swap to mis-target rates and boost imports its use was barred after gross reserves fell below three months of imports.

Private and State Banks

Sri Lanka’s private and state banks also had negative foreign assets for many years, due to lending to the government through US dollar Sri Lanka Development Bonds and other credits. The dollar loans to the government were financed in part by foreign credit lines.

As downgrades hit the country, and forex shortages worsened from flexible inflation targeting/potential output targeting, banks could not renew their credit lines.

Some banks avoided rolling over Sri Lanka Development Bonds. After the default and debt restructure, they were repaid in rupees leading to banks covering their open positions. The dollars are banked abroad, leading a net foreign assets position.

An improvement of net foreign assets, reflects an outflow of dollars from the domestic economy to foreign accounts, similar to repaying debt for building foreign reserves.

The foreign assets position of banks excluding the central bank turned positive in February 2023 and reached around a billion US dollars by the year end and has remained broadly stable around those levels in 2024r.

RELATED Sri Lanka bank net foreign assets turn positive: analysis

The stabilization of the NFA position in banks may allow the central bank to collect more foreign reserves than earlier, analysts say, at the current interest rate structure as long as money is not injected overnight or term injections to mis-target interest rates claiming inflation was low.

Any confidence shocks from the ‘flexible’ exchange rate or liquidity spikes, would also reduce the ability of the central bank to collect dollars and lead to mini ‘capital flight’ style episodes from importers and exporters. (Colombo/July20/2024)

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New constitutional amendment a ‘necessary revision’: Sri Lanka President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President has said a proposed amendment to the country’s constitution was a ‘necessary revision’, which would not result in a postponement of elections.

“In 2015, we proposed a new constitutional amendment,” President Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying during a ceremony to open a court complex in Beligaha, Galle on Friday.

“Typically, I would have assigned this task to K N Choksy, a lawyer.

“However, since he had passed away, the responsibility fell to lawyer Jayampathi Wickramaratne. He was unable to make the necessary revisions. This oversight is regrettable, and I apologize to the nation for it.”

President’s Counsel Wickramaratne has explained that the leaving out Section 83 (b) of the constitution was a not an “oversight” but it was a result of instructions received from the then administration to avoid making changes that required a referendum.

President Maithripala Sirisena in his election manifesto has pledged not to make changes that required a referendum, and the drafting team was told not to make changes that would require a referendum.

Related Sri Lanka’s 6-year Presidential term: problem in drafting 19th amendment explained

Meanwhile President Wickremesinghe said the move to change the constitution should not lead to a delay in elections.

“Our country has upheld democracy since 1931,” he said. “Protecting democracy is crucial. The upcoming election is on schedule, with the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court confirming that it should be held within the specified timeframe, and we support this directive.

“Some critics argue that democracy is at risk during certain crises. However, our constitution, judiciary, and political system have worked to advance and protect it. The most significant threat to our democracy occurred in 2022, yet we have continued to progress through consensus.”

Sri Lanka became the first country in Asia and Africa to grant universal suffrage in 1931, Wickremesinghe said.

“Unlike in the United States, where some states did not extend voting rights to Black people, Sri Lanka is unique for maintaining democracy continuously since then.

“Despite facing wars and rebellions, Sri Lanka has preserved its democratic system, and democracy has remained intact despite numerous challenges.”

Sri Lanka got universal suffrage under British rule.

In Sri Lanka, power transitions smoothly and without conflict after elections, the president said, “a testament to the strength of our democratic process. Despite various debates and issues, democracy has never been compromised.”

Opposition parties and lawyers have charged that the legal process involving changing the constitution could potentially delay the upcoming Presidential elections.

“Article 83 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is hereby amended in paragraph (b) thereof, by the substitution for the words “to over six years,”, of the words “to over five years,” the gazette notice issued on the orders of Wickremesinghe says.

Download bill 523-2024-bill-constitution-EN

There is a discrepancy in the Article 83 with reference to a six year term, while the rest of the constitution, refers to a five year term. (Colombo/July19/2024)

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