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Human Rights Commission recommends to amend Gazette to allow burials of COVID-19 victims

The Human Rights Commission recommended the Ministry of Health to amend the Gazette No.2170/8 to allow burials as well as cremations of the COVID-19 victims while adhering to required health guidelines.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday sent its observations and recommendations on the disposal of dead bodies of COVID-19 victims to the Health Ministry Secretary and the Health Services Director General.

In the letter, the HRCSL urged that the recommendations be taken into consideration and that the Gazette be amended accordingly.

The recommendations attached in the letter said, “Based on our observations, it is our opinion that the mandatory requirement for cremation imposed under the Gazette is not a valid restriction of the freedom to manifest religion or belief.

“It is our opinion that amending Gazette No.2170/8 dated 11th April 2020 incorporating the following will ensure its compatibility with the Constitution and Sri Lanka’s international obligations:

i. Permit burials as well as cremations of bodies of persons who succumb to the Covid-19 virus while adhering to required health guidelines.

ii. Mandate PCR testing results to be issued within 24 hours of a person’s death.

iii. Create a sanitary system of storing bodies of those who die at home and stop taking them to the police morgue.

iv. Adopt a systematic approach to management of deaths that is humane and transparent.

– A transparent process for delegation of authority by the proper authority.

– A process for declaring a person’s cause of death.

– Permitting families to pay their final respects while adhering to required health guidelines.

v. Ensure stakeholder participation when formulating procedures for management of deaths in the context of Covid-19 by engaging the communities that may be affected.

“The Commission draws your attention at this point to its letter dated 29.04.2020 addressed to Secretary, Ministry of Health. The Commission reiterates the human rights position taken thereunder. The Commission further appeals to you to keep in mind the human angle as well. We all know, death of a loved one under any circumstance is one of the most difficult experiences for a human being.

“To add more grief of not sharing the information on the person’s death or imposing a fixed way of managing the mortal remains contradicting the edicts of the person’s religious beliefs is indeed extremely sad.

“The Commission highlights that any restrictions on a fundamental right, even at a time of crisis such as has struck the country at present, must be imposed under strict justifications and with as much space as can be reasonably accommodated for the exercise of the right at issue.

“Therefore, we recommend the gazette be amended in the manner outlined above to ensure compatibility with Sri Lankan law and international obligations,”

The letter was signed by Ramani Muttettuwegama, the Commissioner in Charge of lnvestigations and lnquiries.