Health Ministry informs Human Rights Commission cannot bury bodies

By Indika Sri Aravinda

The Health Ministry has informed the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka that bodies of coronavirus victims cannot be buried.

Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardena told the Colombo Gazette that since the expert committee appointed by the Health Ministry has not changed its decision on the matter, the remains of all coronavirus victims can only be cremated.

He said that the matter is likely to be reviewed in two months, following which the whole issue can be revisited.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has observed that mandating cremation of coronavirus victims is unacceptable.

The Commission had told the Health Ministry that mandating the cremation of those who have died or suspected to have died from COVID-19 is neither necessary nor proportionate to the achievement of protection of public health and therefore is not a permissible restriction of the freedom to manifest religion or beliefs.

The Commission also noted that forced and rushed cremation of dead bodies prior to without procuring conclusive evidence on the cause of death and not allowing family members the opportunity to perform final rites while adhering to accepted safety measures is a violation of the freedom to manifest religion or beliefs.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had written to the Ministry of Health issuing observations and recommendations on the disposal of dead bodies in the context of COVID-19.

The Commission noted that as at 9th November 2O2O, 35 cremations have been carried out as related to COVID-19 out of which 17 were of the dead bodies of Muslim persons.

“In some instances, we were informed that these dead bodies (janazas) were forcibly removed from homes to the National Hospital, Colombo prior to cremation,” the Commission said.

The Commission also said that contrary to the guidelines issued by the Health Ministry, PCR tests are sometimes not conducted on the bodies at all and, in many instances, PCR results are provided only 48-72 hours after the death.

The Commission noted in this regard that it is alleged that 2 Muslim persons cremated have now been taken off the COVID-19 casualty list and in one cremated person, the PCR test has returned negative.

“Further, some of the persons that died at their homes could not have contracted the virus since they have been homebound due to disability and their family members have also stayed indoors in the weeks preceding the death,” the Commission had said.

The Commission also noted that some of the persons that were cremated as having succumbed to the COVID-19 virus could not in fact have contracted the virus since their family members have not contracted the virus within 14 days and medical attendants have not even been tested for the virus. (Colombo Gazette)