16th April, 2020

His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa,
Hon. President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,


Your Excellency,

With due respect and profound submission, we the World Forum of Sri Lankan Muslims, wish to appeal to your good self on behalf of all Sri Lankan citizens who succumb to the Corona Virus – Covid – 19 to be given the opportunity of dignity in the performance of their last rites according to their wishes or the wishes of their next of kin, in line with obligations and or traditions and cultures contained in their religious beliefs.

We are appealing to your Excellency for nothing more than what is guaranteed in the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (the Constitution), which only you can guarantee as the head of State.

The Constitution promulgated in September 1978 together with all the amendments upto the 19th Amendment in 2015 is the present Constitution in force.
Section 10 of the Constitution – under Freedom of Thought states “Every person is entitled to freedom of thought conscience and religion including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” and Section 11 states “No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment or punishment”.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which Sri Lanka is a signatory states “Everyone has a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this rigt includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belie, in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

We acknowledge your Excellency, the Constitution also provides for the government to dispense with some of the rights in the event of an emergency or for the protection of public health.

Government Gazette notification No. 2170/8 dated Saturday April 11 2020 – Regulations made by the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services, under Section 2 and 3 of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance Chapter 222. Section 61 A of the Ordinance states “ Cremation of corpse of a person who has died of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID 19), paragraph (1) states “ Notwithstanding the provisions of regulations 61 and 62, the corpse of a person who has died or is suspected to have died of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID- 19) shall be cremated”. The Regulation thereafter goes on to explain how the cremation is done.
It is our belief that this Regulation is promulgated without the proper procedure of consultation with all communities and faiths in Sri Lanka and without consideration of any scientifically acceptable alternatives – namely burial under proper protective shrouding and containment as being done all other countries all over the world. Therefore, it is our contention that this Regulation is not only biased, it is ultra vires Sections 10 and 11 of the Constitution and against Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Your Excellency, the reasons given for the denial of burial rights has been that the “water table” in most parts of Sri Lanka is high thereby the risk of pollution is possible. There is no scientific evidence that this is so. All evidence so far indicate that the Coronavirus is air bound and does not survive in water. This being the reason for continued excessive washing of hands. Furthermore, except those of the Hindu faith, the majority of persons from other faiths, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims intend their last rites to be dignified with a burial. We acknowledge that a minority of Buddhists and Christians opt for cremation for reasons other than faith reasons. The large number of tombstones in the many cemeteries all over Sri Lanka, for that matter all over the world bear testimony to the fact that majority of the people wish for a dignified ritual of their last rites – namely burial. Therefore, we must reiterate, while acknowledging that this appeal is motivated by Islamic faith reasons, it is made without reserve on behalf of all communities who respect their departed loved ones with a dignified burial.

Your Excellency, having said this we must assure you that we do not condone breaking the law. Far from it, what we ae appealing for is the available alternative of burial under strict protective rules of sealed polythene shrouding and embedded in a sealed coffin as being done in other countries.

By virtue of the aforesaid averments, we place this appeal in your worthy hands with the single hope that it would be considered sympathetically and those who desire the alternative of a dignified burial will receive redress.

Yours most respectfully.

Rizwan Wahab
Secretary General
World Forum for Srilankan Muslims
[email protected]
[email protected]

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Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect World Forum for Sri Lankan Muslims ( point-of-view.

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