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Heed the advice of eminent Sri Lankan medical professionals & enable burial of COVID-19 dead – Civil society statement

The government must heed the advice of eminent Sri Lankan medical professionals and enable burial of COVID-19 dead – civil society statement.

(4 January 2021) We the undersigned individuals and civil society organisations welcome the recent statements from eminent and authoritative individuals and organisations in the medical field in Sri Lanka approving the burial of COVID 19 dead. We thereby call on the government to act upon this advice and immediately end the ongoing policy of forcible cremation.

In the past one week, Sri Lanka’s top virologists and leading medical bodies have publicly announced that based on the available science burial of COVID 19 dead can be permitted. On 1st January the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) issued a statement asserting that COVID-19 dead could be buried as “the virus is unlikely to remain infectious within a dead body” and adding that no scientific evidence exists from any part of the world that presented burial of COVID-19 dead as a public health hazard.

On 31st Dec 2020 the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) issued a similar statement explaining that out of the 85,000 published scientific papers on COVID-19 not a single case of the virus spreading through a dead body has been recorded. Refuting concerns of the spread of the virus through ground water the CCPSL position paper stated that “The claims on the SARS-CoV-2 spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through the drinking water.”

World renown and leading Sri Lankan virologists Professor Malik Peiris and Senior Professor Tissa Vitharana who is a siting government MP in the parliament in recorded statements have challenged the government’s position on forced cremation and argued in support of permitting safe burials.

Both the CCPSL and SLMA have argued that contamination of water supply by sewage of COVID-19 patients pose a higher risk to the spread of the disease than burial of victims.
In light of this substantive and authoritative medical advice we the undersigned call on the government to take immediate action to enable both burial and cremation of COVID-19 dead. This was the national policy until 31 March 2020, when the Ministry of Health unexpectedly issued new guidelines insisting that all COVID-19 dead have to be only cremated. Subsequent media articles and statements by civil society organisations have highlighted that this policy has also been applied to those suspected of having the infection.

This policy has been obstinately maintained by the government despite countless statements and appeals from international actors including the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, the UN Special Rapporteurs, Permanent Human Rights commission of OIC and several Sri Lankan religious leaders including from the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Abhava and Ramanna Maha Nikaya, civil society activists and concerned citizens.
With Sri Lanka’s own medical community supporting the burial of COVID-19 dead there is now no more opportunity for the government to continue with its cremation only policy which has clearly discriminated against Sri Lanka’s religious minorities.

Both the above cited medical bodies have also acknowledged the deep religious and cultural implications of the forcible cremation policy that has not only affected inter-community co-existence and reconciliation but can be an unwarranted public health and wellbeing issue, especially for affected groups.

We recognise the scientific evidence on the spread of COVID-19 through handling of dead bodies, participating in funeral rituals and social gatherings and therefore support the imposition of legitimate limitations to these activities. We call on all communities in Sri Lanka to cooperate with such measures.

The government’s ongoing forcible cremation policy pursued amidst a lack of scientific evidence has caused much suffering and grievance to certain religious groups and must urgently be put to an end. Hence, we urge the government to listen to the unequivocal advice by these respected individuals and bodies in the medical field and enable those from religious minority and other groups who wish to bury their dead to do so without hindrance.

Endorsed by:

1. A.M. Ranawana
2. A. Somalingam
3. Amalini de Sayrah
4. Ambika Satkunanathan
5. Anithra Varia
6. Anne-Marie Fonseka
7. Annouchka Wijesinghe
8. Anthony Jesudasan – Human Rights Defender
9. Anthony Vinoth
10. Anuratha Rajaretnam
11. Anushani Alagarajah
12. Aritha Wickramasinghe
13. Bishop Duleep de Chickera
14. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
15. Channaka Jayasinghe
16. Deekshya Illangasinghe
17. Dinusha Panditaratne
18. Dr. Jehan Perera
19. Dr. K. Guruparan – Attorney- at-law
20. Dr. Lionel Bopage
21. Dr. Mario Gomez
22. Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
23. Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
24. Dr. Tara de Mel
25. Fr. Manoj Rasanjana
26. Fr. Terence Fernando
27. Geethika Dharmasinghe
28. Gehan Gunatilleke
29. Godfrey Yogarajah
30. Gowthaman Balachandran
31. Ian Ferdinands
32. Joanne Senn
33. K.J. Brito Fernando
34. Kshama Ranawana
35. Kumudini Samuel
36. Lasantha Ruhunage
37. Mahishaa Balraj
38. Marisa de Silva
39. Midushaun Rhodes
40. Nagulan Nesiah
41. Nahdiya Danish
42. Nethmini Indrachapa Medawala
43. Nilshan Fonseka
44. Niran Wirasinha – Reconciliation and Peace Desk
45. Niyanthini Kadirgamar
46. P. Muthulingam
47. P.N. Singham
48. Philip Dissanayake
49. Prabodha Rathnayaka
50. Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda
51. Prof. S. Ratnajeevan Hoole
52. Prof. Sumathy Sivamohan
53. Professor Chandraguptha Thenuwara
54. Ralston Weinman
55. Rev. Andrew Devadason – Vicar, St . Paul’s Church, Milagiriya
56. Rev. Asiri P Perera (Former President Bishop Methodist Church Sri Lanka)
57. Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris
58. Rev. Fr. F. C. J. Gnanaraj (Nehru)
59. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
60. Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga
61. Rev. Fr. Rohan Peries
62. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
63. Rev. Marc Billimoria
64. Rev. Sr. Deepa Fernando
65. Rev. Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
66. Rev. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando
67. Rev. Sr. Rasika Pieris
68. Ruki Fernando
69. Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
70. S. Thilipan
71. S.C.C. Elankovan
72. Sajini Wickramasinghe
73. Sakuntala Kadirgamar
74. Sandun Thudugala
75. Sandya Ekneligoda
76. Sanjana Hattotuwa
77. Sarah Arumugam
78. Sarala Emmanuel
79. Selvaraja Rajasegar (Editor, www.maatram.org)
80. Seneka Perera
81. Senel  Wanniarachchi
82. Sheila Richards
83. Stella J. J. Victor
84. Sugath Rajapaksha
85. Swasthika Arulingam – Attorney-at-law
86. Thanuki Natasha Goonesinghe
87. Ven. Fr. Samuel J Ponniah – Archdeacon of Jaffna, Church of Ceylon (Anglican)
88. Visaka Dharmadasa
89. Yasith De Silva

1. Alliance for Minorities
2. Association of War Affected Women
3. Centre for Policy Alternative
4. Centre for Society and Religion
5. Dabindu Collective
6. Eastern Social Development Foundation
7. Families of the Disappeared
8. Forum for Affected Families, Mannar
9. Hashtag Generation
10. Human Elevation Organisation
11. Human Rights Office (HRO)
12. Institute of Social Development
13. International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
14. iProbono
15. Law and Society Trust
16. Lawyers Forum for the People Committee to Protecting Rights of Prisoners.
17. Liberation Movement
18. Mannar Women’s Development Federation
19. National Peace Council
20. Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L)
21. Rights Now Collective for Democracy
22. Rural Development Foundation
23. Sangami Penkal Collective
24. Shramabhimani Kendraya
25. Sisterhood Initiative
26. Suriya Women Development Centre
27. Women and Media Collective
28. Women Education Research Centre (WERC)
29. Women’s Action Network



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