SRI LANKA BECOMES THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD TO FORCIBLY CREMATE VICTIMS OF COVID-19
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SRI LANKA BECOMES THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD TO FORCIBLY CREMATE VICTIMS OF COVID 19.
- Sri Lanka is forcibly cremating the bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims, against the religious and cultural practices of minority groups
- The World Health Organization and other international health experts have stated that the burial of COVID-19 victims poses no risk nor benefit over cremation
- Sri Lankan officials have justified this human rights violation through unfounded fear campaigns, suggesting Muslim bodies can be used as ‘biological weapons’ despite any evidence to support this.
Ethnic and religious minorities in Sri Lanka have been the victims of human rights violations and systemic discrimination for many decades. The Tamil, Muslim, and Catholic minority populations of Sri Lanka have had a tense and violent relationship with the state.
The international community, including several United Nations agencies and various human rights organizations have criticized and condemned these human rights violations on numerous occasions. [Amnesty International Press Release, USCIRF Tweet, AlJazeera News Article]
On the heels of a civil war that decimated and targeted the Tamil population on the island, Sri Lankans have been subject to an increasing campaign of Islamophobia and hate speech against the Muslim minority community. This has led to the targeted destruction of Muslim places of worship, riots and violence carried out by non-Muslim individuals in Muslim communities, and the ostracization of the Muslim minority population. There has been widespread evidence of the government’s inaction to stop the outbreak of mob violence against Sri Lankan minorities. [News Article 1, News Aricle 2, News Article 3, News Article 4]
Islamophobia and discrimination have overflowed into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has explicitly and implicitly positioned Sri Lankan Muslims as the exclusive carriers of the virus. In a recent interview with BBC World Service, Dr Channa Perera, Consultant Forensic Pathologist for Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health, doubled down on this vilification of the Muslim population, stating that the government holds a scientifically unfounded fear about whether the buried Muslim bodies can be used as a biological weapon.
This fear has extended to the government’s treatment of deceased victims of the virus. The Sri Lankan government has become the only country to pass a law [Gazette #2170/8, April 11, 2020] forcing all victims of COVID-19 to be cremated. Cremation is a standard practice of burial for the majority of the country but is directly in conflict with the religious and cultural practices of the Muslim and Catholic communities.
International health authorities, including the World Health Organization [link], have stated that there is no suggested protocol for the treatment of bodies. There is no preference for cremation over burial as a means to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Sri Lankan government’s insistence on cremation, then, is a tool to restrict the rights of religious and ethnic minorities to exercise their burial rights.
Since the passing of this law, four UN Rapporteurs have requested the protection of the burial practices of minorities to allow the bodies to be buried under WHO guidelines. This has been corroborated by press releases from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. There has been no action from the Sri Lankan government to change their insistence on forced cremation.
As Canadian citizens who also identify as members of affected minority communities in Sri Lanka, we are concerned about the fate of our relatives and loved ones should they be affected by COVID-19.
We, the undersigned, call upon the Government of Canada to take action on this issue through the condemnation of the violation of these fundamental human rights. We ask that you request the Sri Lankan government to rescind the discriminatory law of forcible cremation to protect the funeral rites of all individuals in the country, inclusive of minority populations.
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