Muslim families launch complaints to UN Human Rights Committee over coronavirus cremations in Sri Lanka

Muslim families launch complaints to UN Human Rights Committee over coronavirus cremations in Sri Lanka
3 min read
09 February, 2021
Muslim families have taken to the UN in an effort to put an end to coronavirus cremations in Sri Lanka, citing religious freedom.
The international community is critical of forced crematations [Getty]

Several Muslim families have launched a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee over Sri Lanka’s policy of cremating bodies suspected or confirmed to have died with coronavirus, arguing that it breaches their human rights.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), along with the British law firm Bindmans is working on bringing the case to the committee on behalf of the families.

In a statement about the action, MCB wrote: "The Muslim Council of Britain has set up a taskforce made up of Sri Lankan representative bodies, lawyers, medical experts and community organisations. The taskforce has been working to ensure this matter is taken seriously and that significant pressure is applied to the Sri Lankan Government to reverse this policy.

"The MCB has now decided to take unprecedented action and issue a complaint to the United Nations. This complaint will be led by a team of expert lawyers with the aim of getting the Sri Lankan Government to reverse its cremation policy."

Reports of the Sri Lankan government cremating bodies has been criticised by medical experts who say there is no evidence of contraction of Covid-19 from dead bodies.

The eight complainants, the Guardian reported, say they understand that during the pandemic "difficult decisions have to be taken which interfere with fundamental rights".

All of the applicants are related to people who have been cremated, which they say was done without their consent.

In their joint submission, the families claim: "All of the cremations took place in a forced and arbitrarily expedited manner, denying family members any opportunity to respect their religious and cultural beliefs. This has served only to exacerbate the terrible grief suffered by each family member and their community.

"The practice of burial, and the associated religious rituals and practices, are central tenets of the Islamic faith, a faith which is practised by a persecuted minority in Sri Lanka."

Last month Sri Lanka rejected international pleas and recommendations from its own experts to allow the Muslim minority to bury their dead in line with Islamic custom.

The government first banned burials in April amid concerns - which experts say are baseless - by influential Buddhist monks that burying bodies could contaminate groundwater and spread the virus.

The World Health Organisation has said that there is no such risk, recommending both burials and cremations of virus victims, but the Sri Lankan government has refused.

"This decision will not be changed for social, religious, political or any other personal reason," Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said, according to ministry officials.

Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead facing Mecca. Sri Lanka's majority Buddhists, who are strong backers of the current government, are typically cremated, as are Hindus.

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