මියගිය පුද්ගලයින්ගේ සිරුරු ආදාහනය කිරීම පිළිබඳව ලෝක සෞඛ්ය සංවිධානයේ මාර්ගෝපදේශ අනුගමනය කරන ලෙස ඉල්ලා රාජ්ය නොවන සංවිධාන (NGO) 17 ක ක්රියාකාරීන් 164 දෙනෙක් ජනාධිපති ගෝඨාභය රාජපක්ෂගෙන් ලිඛිත ඉල්ලීමක් සිදුකර ඇත.
එම ලිපියේ පිටපත් සෞඛ්ය අමාත්ය පවිත්රා වන්නිආරච්චි , සෞඛ්ය සේවා අධ්යක්ෂ ජෙනරාල් වෛද්ය අනිල් ජසිංහ, වසංගත රෝග විද්යා ඒකකයේ ප්රධානි වෛද්ය සුදත් සමරවීර, බෝවන රෝග රෝහලේ අධ්යක්ෂ වෛද්ය හසිතා අත්තනායක, ප්රධාන අධිකරණ වෛද්ය නිලධාරී වෛද්ය අජිත් තෙන්නකෝන්, ශ්රී ලංකාවේ මානව හිමිකම් කොමිෂන් සභාවේ සභාපති ආචාර්ය දීපිකා උඩගම, ලෝක සෞඛ්ය සංවිධානයේ ශ්රී ලංකා නියෝජිත වෛද්ය රාෂියා පෙන්ඩ්සේ වෙත ද යොමු කර ඇත.
පසුගිය දා මුස්ලිම් මැති ඇමතිවරු පිරිසක් විසින් මරණයට පත්වන මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයන්ගේ සිරුරු ආදාහනය නොකර භූමිදානය කරන ලෙස අග්රාමාත්ය මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂගෙන් ද ඉල්ලීමක් සිදුකරන ලදි. නමුත් වෛරසය පැතිරීමේ අවදානම මත ජාති ආගම් බේදයක් නොමැතිව වෛරසය හේතුවෙන් මිය යන පුද්ගලයන්ගේ සිරුරු ආදාහනය කළ යුතු බවට සෞඛ්ය අංශ පෙන්වා දෙන ලදි.
වර්ෂාව ආරම්භ වීමත් සමගම මළ සිරුරු භූමදාන කිරීම ගැන සිතන්නවත් එපා යැයි ශ්රී ජයවර්ධනපුර විශ්වවිද්යාලයේ ව්යවහාරික විද්යා පිඨයේ මහාචාර්ය, භූගත ජලය පිළිබඳව විශේෂඥවරියක් වන මෙත්තිකා විතානගේ ඊයේ(4) අවධාරණය කර සිටියාය. මහාචාර්ය විතානගේ සඳහන් කර සිටින්නේ ශ්රී ලංකාවේ භූගත ජලය ඉතා නොගැඹුරු මට්ටමක පවතින බැවින් මෙය සිදු නොකළ යුතු බවය.
මෙම ලිපියට අත්සන් තබා ඇත්තේ රණවිරුවන්ට විරුද්ධව, මහා සංඝරත්නයට විරුද්ධව සහ බෙදුම්වාදය වෙනුවෙන් පසුගිය කාලය පුරාවට පෙනී සිටි පිරිසක් ලෙස සමාජය හඳුනාගත් පිරිසකි. ස්වාධීන මැතිවරණ කොමිසමේ මහාචාර්ය රත්නජීවන් හූල්, ජවිපෙ ක්රියාකාඑිකයකු වන හරිනි අමරසේකර, ලාල් විජේනායක, නිමල්කා ප්රනාන්දු, කෞෂල්යා ප්රනාන්දු, පාක්යසෝති සර්වණමුත්තු, රාධිකා කුමාරස්වාමි ආදීන් ඒ අතර වෙයි.
මේ අතර සාජා දේශයේ පාලක සුල්තාන්වරයා එරට මුස්ලිම් කටයුතු දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවට නියෝග කර ඇත්තේ කොරෝනා ආසාදනය වී මිය යන කිසිවෙකුගේ සිරුරු භූමදානය නොකරන ලෙසය.
එම සම්පූර්ණ ලිපිය මෙසේය.
Disposal of bodies of deceased persons who were infected with and suspected of being infected with COVID-19
We write to you as the person leading Sri Lanka’s effort to prevent and deal with COVID-19.
We, at the outset, would like to express our gratitude to the public officials in Sri Lanka for their contribution towards preventing and dealing with COVID-19, particularly the untiring and selfless service of health sector workers.
We write with regard to the disposal of bodies of persons who died due to being infected with, and those that died who are suspected of being infected with COVID-19. We were pleased that the Ministry of Health Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID 19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients dated 27 March 2020 allowed for burial under certain conditions, and the family of the deceased to view the body at a designated place at the hospital. We were however concerned to learn that an individual of the Muslim faith who died due to COVID-19 was cremated on 30 March 2020 in contravention of the said Ministry of Health Guidelines and against the wishes of the family.
We note that the Ministry of Health Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID 19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients were thereafter amended and the new document dated 31 March 2020 as well as the Ministry of Health (MOH) Circular no EPID/400/2019 n-cov issued on 1 April 2020, which reproduces the amended Guidelines, require that all COVID-19 victims be cremated. We also note contradictory media reports on 2 April 2020 that Cabinet Spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena has stated that the government will adhere to WHO Guidelines in disposing the bodies of those who have died as a result of COVID- 19, as well as the appointment of an expert committee to decide on appropriate and practices to deal with the bodies of those who die due to COVOD-19.
When we face such a grave public health crisis there is a need to ensure that the mental health of our population is also given due attention. In this regard, the disposal of bodies of persons who died during the pandemic requires particular attention. In the Muslim faith it is required that the dead be buried and cremation is not permitted. The possibility of compulsory cremation therefore is a matter of great distress to practicing Muslims. In these times of distress and uncertainty this is an added stressor that may adversely impact the mental health of large numbers in the population.
At present, the religious identity of certain victims has been highlighted due to which, in both mainstream and social media, we have seen outpourings of vitriol, and hate speech against Muslims for their actions or inactions in not preventing or causing the spread of COVID-19. In this context, it is important that the decisions made regarding burial are not perceived as punitive measures against such perceived irresponsibility by infected persons. We must also recognize that there is widespread anti Muslim sentiment prevailing in Sri Lanka and has been for the past several years. The negative stereotypes about Muslims were exacerbated by the terror attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019 carried out by an ISIS inspired group of Muslims. It is important to ensure that decisions regarding matters of public health do not result in the persecution or marginalization of the Muslim population. Within such a context, we note with concern that the revised MOH Guidelines dated 31 March 2020 and the aforementioned MOH Circular disregard Muslim religious sensibilities and requirements, and provide no succor to the already distressed.
In this regard, we urge you to consider the WHO Interim Guidance dated 24 March 2020 on Infection Prevention and Control for the Safe Management of a Dead Body in the Context of COVID-19. The Guidance states that ‘cadavers do not transmit disease’ and that ‘It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources’. The Guidance further advises the authorities to ‘manage each situation on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the need to investigate the cause of death, and the risks of exposure to infection’. Where disposal is concerned, the Guidance says that ‘People who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated’. We recognize that the option of burial might not be available in certain instances due to legitimate public health requirements such as the depth of graves. To address these concerns, the state could identify suitable burial grounds that meet WHO standards in all districts and request the particular community religious authorities to prepare themselves to adhere to those standards.
In seeking to ensure the well-being of all Sri Lankans at this difficult time, we highlight the need to also ensure dignity in death. In addition to the issue of Muslim and perhaps Christian burials, we have witnessed that the media is permitted to cover the cremation of those who died from COVID-19 without any consideration of the wishes of the bereaved families. While preserving the health of our population must be paramount, it must not be at the cost of our common humanity and the dignity of our dead. WHO guidelines state that, ‘The dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions, and their families should be respected and protected throughout’.
Moreover, to encourage persons to report possible exposure and seek medical advice and help, we highlight the need to not stigmatize patients or criminalize them in any way, which will only lead to persons hiding their symptoms and further infecting others. It is also important to ensure there is public information in all three languages regarding the behavior required under different circumstances as well as regarding the available medical care. The availability of such information will reassure the general population that being infected with COVID-19 is not a death sentence.
We therefore urge you to reconsider the MOH Circular of 1st April 2020 and amendments dated 31 March 2020 to the MOH Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines, and instead follow WHO Guidance on the disposal of bodies. We also call upon your Excellency to address the country’s greatly distressed Muslims and put to rest their fears that they are somehow being punished, or that the country has little respect for their concerns.
THE LIST OF SIGNATORIES
Dr. Asha Abeysekere Hilmy Ahamed Silma Ahamed Azhar Ahamed Nihal Ahamed Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare K. Aingkaran, Attorney-at-law Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Open University Of Sri Lanka S.M. Aneefa N. Abdul Faaiz, Ameer , Attorney-at-law Prof. Ameer Ali Swathika Arulingam, Attorney at law Niranjala Arulanathy Subajini Kisho Anton, Attorney at law M.M. Baheej, Attorney-at-law Capt. A.G.A. Barrie, SLE, P.Eng. Jiffriya Barrie Faahima Cadar Angelica Chandrasekeran Anushya Coomaraswamy Radhika Coomaraswamy C. Colombage Danesh Cassie Chetty Shalomi Daniel Amalini De Sayrah Bishop Duleep de Chickera Geetha de Chickera Marisa De Silva Shaanea Mendis de Silva, Artist Dinesh Dogangoda, Attorney-at-law Prabu Deepan K.M.Deen, All Ceylon YMMA Conference Dinushika Dissanayake Asma Edris S.C.C. Elankovan Sarala Emmauel Rev. Sister Nicola Emmanuel. Mohamed Faslan, University of Colombo Rashika Fazali Ilma Fareez Latheef Farook, Journalist Rizvi Farouk Khalid Farouk Ian Ferdinands Dr. Kaushalya Fernando Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Attorney-at-law Ruki Fernando Tamara Fernando Rev. Reid Shelton Fernando, Retired Priest, Colombo Angela Forman Bhavani Fonseka Manel Fonseka Mushtaq Fuad Aneesa Firthous C. Ranitha Gnanarajah Attorney -at law Shyamala Gomez Dr. Mario Gomez Gehan Gunetilleke Prof. Camena Guneratna Harsha Gunasena Anberiya Hanifa, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum Dr. Farzana Haniffa, University Of Colombo Sa’diya Hassen Adel Hashim Prof. Rajan Hoole Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole Prof. Qadri Ismail Zumaiya Ifthikar Fathima Nabeela Iqbal Ashraff Jainudeen U.L. Jaufer, Attorney-at-law Dr. Sivagnanam Jeyasankar Sr. Victorine James, Holy Cross School of health Sciences Jaffna Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, University Of Jaffna Niyanthini Kadirgamar Sakuntala Kadirgamar Dr. Ramya Kumar Chulani Kodikara Mohamed Kubais Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan Annie Kurian Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala Shaheera Lafeer Jeremy Liyanage, Bridging Lanka Ltd. Ismath Majeed. Jensila Majeed Justice. Dr. Saleem Marsoof Izath Manal Mohamed Mahuruf M. Meera Saibu Dr. Farah Mihlar Juwairia Mohideen Buhari Mohamed Nawaz Mohamed, Former Working Director, SLRC F. Muflik F. Z. Nasrullah Nagulan Nesiah Devanesan Nesiah, Retired Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Environment and Women’s Affairs 100.Prof. Vasuki Nesiah, New York University M.N.M. Nowras Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, University Of Peradeniya Nicola Perera, University Of Colombo. Dylan Perera Anna Peter Dr. Jehan Perera, National Peace Council Srinath Perera, Attorney-at-aw, United Socialist Party Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Church of Ceylon Fathima Rameeza Nalini Ratnaraja K.S. Ratnavel, Attorney-at-law Dr. Ramola Rasool, University Of Kelaniya Prof. Harshana Rambukwella, Open University Of Sri Lanka A.R.A. Ramees Y.R. Ranjan Sheila Richards Ahamed Rislan Yasmin Raji R. Rasmin Peter Rezel – Chartered Accountant Amna Rifky Thyagi Ruwanpathirana Afrah Sidiqi Vanie Simon Prof. Sivamohan Sumathy, University Of Peradeniya Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, University Of Colombo. Sampath Samarakoon Rev. Selvanathan Selvan M.N Shamla Shaheed Sangani Ambika Satkunanathan S.Sivathasan Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Dr. Seyed Sheriffdeen Sharmila Seyyid, Social Worker Revd. S .D .P. Selvan N.M. Saroor Joanne Senn Shreen Abdul Saroor Krishanthi Tharmaraj Mahendran Thiruvarangan, Lecturer (Probationary), University of Jaffna Dr. Minna Thaheer, Senior Researcher, Centre for Poverty Analysis Azkha Thariqshad Fathima Nusra Thameem Mathuri Thamilmaran – Attorney at Law Visakha Tillekeratne, Chief Commissioner, Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association Hafsa Uvais. Mass Usuf, Attorney-at-law S. Vinothan Kamala Vasuki Emil van der Poorten Stella Victor Piyumi Wattuhewa Shamara Wettimuny Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-law M. Wahid Varuni Weerasinghe Annouchka Wijesinghe Upul Kumara Wickramasinghe – Durham University Riza Yahiya, Architect Deshamanya Godfrey Yogarajah Fr. V. Yogeswaran S.A.C.M. Zuhyle
Sisterhood Initiatives National Peace Council Northern Muslim Civil Society INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre Rural Development Foundation International Institute for Research, Information and Action (IIRIA) Mannar Women’s Development Center Women’s Action Network Muslim Women Development Trust International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) Centre for Policy Alternative Human Elevation Organization Islamic Women’s Association for Research and Empowerment Centre for Justice and Change, Trincomalee Centre for Human Rights and Development Eastern Social Development Foundation Law and Human Rights Center, Jaffna.