The decision made by the Government of Sri Lanka, in regards to the forced cremation of bodies of Muslims who have died or suspected to have died of COVID-19, has been causing profound agony to all of us. Despite the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that has allowed burial as a method of disposing bodies of COVID-19 victims and Human Rights organisations advocating respectful cultural and religious practices, the Government of Sri Lanka is persistent in it’s reprehensible decision to continue cremation as the only way to dispose of bodies of COVID-19 victims.
Repeated pleas and appeals in this regard by religious leaders, organisations, local and overseas politicians alike, appears to be continuously ignored by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Although we, the Muslim communities in Australia, have limitations in our capacity to change the decisions of the government of Sri Lanka, ALMA Exco considers that we must continue to strive by launching a public awareness campaign as a potential approach to apply pressure on the Sri Lankan government to reverse it’s draconian policy.
ALMA Exco has, thus far, carried out the following actions:
•Has submitted a joint-letter with other Sri Lankan Muslim organisations in Australia to the president of Sri Lanka
•Met the newly appointed Consul General of Sri Lanka to Sydney and conveyed the concerns of our community regarding this burning issue.
•Requested Australian Muslim Times to publish an article and One Path Network to compile contents on this subject.
We have identified the following proposed actions as part of our public awareness campaign:
•Meet and discuss with representatives of other Muslim organisations in Australia to make them aware of the issue and urge them to publish a statement condemning the decision of the Sri Lankan government.
•Request the Imams Council of Australia to advise the Imams to mention this in Fridays sermons.
•Meet State and Federal politicians and to convince them to make speeches in the State and Federal Parliaments, as being done in other countries.
ALMA invited members, who are interested in this matter, to discuss and share your thoughts to formulate appropriate and effective actions/approaches. on Dec 20, 2020 at 3:00 PM. There were over 40 persons participated at the meeting and over 25 people participated via zoom. The Meeting concluded at 5.15 pm.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which began in early 2020, continues to impact the lives of people and communities globally. Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have witnessed many governments struggle to combat and find suitable resolutions to the evolving challenges that have arisen because of the pandemic.
On the global stage, we have seen countries deal with the pandemic in a variety of ways from the early success of New Zealand’s zero-local transmissions, to the tragic super waves that hit Italy and many other countries. From issues surrounding the distribution of life-saving supplies to dealing with an influx of COVID-19 fatalities, we have seen countries rise above the adversities and some fail dismally to mitigate health and social issues.
But arguably one of the most globally criticised responses to the pandemic has been the systemic failure of the Sri Lankan government to respect the rights of minority groups during these devastating times. The implementation of a rigid cremation-only policy with regards to COVID-19 fatalities was introduced in March this year to national and global outcry from many communities and ultimately is a policy that disregards guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which allows for both burial and cremation.
Cremations are forbidden in Islam and generally not preferred in either Judaism or Christianity, with all three major religions practicing sacred funeral rites that have been respected by governments and democracies. It was to a response of shock and horror when it was revealed that the body of the first Muslim COVID-19 victim, who had died on 30 March 2020, was cremated by the authorities without the family’s consent and in total violation of both the WHO guidelines as well as against the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health guidelines.
In response to this gross violation of consent, The Ministry of Health abruptly retracted its previous guidelines and published a fresh set of guidelines with a particular emphasis on the uncompromising provision of cremation (and not burial) of bodies of persons who had (or suspected to have) died of COVID-19.
Despite over 185 countries allowing the burial of bodies and granting religious last rites, Sri Lanka is among the handful of countries that have mandated cremation. The mandates were made official in April amid fears spread by influential Buddhist monks – who support President Gotabaya Rajapaksa – that burying bodies could contaminate groundwater and spread the disease, with the government’s chief epidemiologist, Dr Sugath Samaraweera, also backing the unproven claims.
The Government of Sri Lanka formed an expert committee to study and report on the best solution to the issue of observing funeral rites, which ultimately reaffirmed the government’s initial claims. However, interviews with professionals competent in Virology, Epidemiology and Geology have consistently negated the pseudo claims and there has been no scientific evidence that proves the occurrence of such contamination.
Religious groups in Sri Lanka and across the world have continued to protest the policy, with 12 separate petitions filed to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court.
All 12 petitions were rejected with no comment.