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United Nations calls on Sri Lanka to safeguard minorities during COVID pandemic

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is facing international pressure to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in battling the COVID 19 threat.

The UN Human Rights Council has sent a communique to the government today and another message from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is also due, informed sources told EconomyNext.

In a communication by four Special Rapporteurs of the Office of the High Commissioner of the UN on Human Rights (OHCHR) addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa the country is being asked to report on issues where religious minorities are stigmatized as individuals or as a member of a specific community.

The communique, released by the OHCHR stressed that “it is equally important that your Excellency’s Government firmly condemn any attempt by anyone, irrespective of status, to issue or spread hate messages that are of a nature to instigate ethnic or religious tensions or violence, including through accusations or blame that any particular ethnic or religious community is responsible for the pandemic of COVID-19.”
The document drew attention to the issue of the disposal of the remains of Muslim victims of COVID 19.

It points out that the government, after initially allowing the burial of the remains of the victims made it mandatory that the corpses be cremated according to a set of guidelines.

The communique asked the government to “provide the rationale for the decision to limit the method of the disposal of the dead bodies to cremation. Has any consultation been held with relevant health experts, civil society and community members in order to ensure that the decision to prohibit the burial of COVID-19 victims is non-discriminatory, necessary and proportionate to the objective pursued?”

It also asked the country to “indicate the measures undertaken to ensure that ethnic and religious minorities are not discriminated against in the implementation of this MoH Guideline and that their right to freedom of religion or belief with regard to burial rites and practices is upheld and respected.”

It also wanted information on the steps taken to tackle the potential rise in hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities in Sri Lanka, including by protecting the identity of the COVID-19 patients or deceased. (Colombo, April 14, 2020)