Sri Lanka urged to stop ‘forced’ cremation of COVID victims’ bodies


Independent UN human rights experts on Monday urged the Sri Lankan government to end its policy on compulsorily cremating victims of COVID-19 as there has been no established medical or scientific evidence that burial of dead bodies leads to risk of spreading communicable diseases.

Special Rapporteurs Ahmed Shaheed, Fernand de Varennes, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule and Tlaleng Mofokeng, in a joint appeal to the government, said that the practice ran contrary to the beliefs of Muslims and other minorities.

In the statement, the experts said cremation ran the risk of increasing prejudice, intolerance and violence, insisting that no medical or scientific evidence indicated that burying the deceased increased the risk of spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19.

“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,” the experts said.

“Such hostility against the minorities exacerbates existing prejudices, inter-communal tensions, and religious intolerance, sowing fear and distrust while inciting further hatred and violence,” they added.

“We are equally concerned that such a policy deters the poor and the most vulnerable from accessing public healthcare over fears of discrimination,” they said, noting that it would further negatively impact the public health measures to contain the pandemic.

To date, more than 270 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in Sri Lanka; a significant number have come from the minority Muslim community.

All of the deceased were cremated in line with amended health guidelines for COVID-19 patients, which were issued on last March.

Information received by the experts indicates that cremation often takes place immediately after test results are provided, without granting family members reasonable time or the opportunity to cross check or receive the final test results.

There have been several cases of cremations based on erroneous information about COVID-19 test results, the experts said.

They noted that the President and Prime Minister had instructed the health authorities to explore options for burials in Sri Lanka.

But the expert learned 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. (Source: UN News)