22 February, 2024


The Heavy Price That Sri Lanka Will Have To Pay For Denying Burial Rights

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

The High Commissioner is deeply concerned by the trends emerging over the past year, which may represent early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situationstates the latest report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) dated 27 January 2021.

For how long can the truth be suppressed? For how long can racism hide behind the cover of ground water contamination? For how long are the true medical professionals going to tolerate this unscientific charade desecrating the ethics of medical practise, the integrity of the profession and their self-dignity?  

This tomfoolery has now hit the international arena. The world is looking down upon Sri Lanka as acting:

(1) in violation of fundamental rights entrenched in its own constitution; 

(2) in violation of international obligations; 

(3) in violation of human rights; 

(4) in contrary to scientific evidence available in the field of virology and epidemiology and, 

(5) is causing disaffection within communities by its discriminative policies against religious minorities.

These are very serious matters. It is now not only the burial matter but many other issues too have been dugged up. As citizens, you and I, may have to ultimately bear the burden and face the wrath of the international community. For how long can the world be fooled? The OHCHR Report has urged, ‘Member States to pursue alternative international options for ensuring justice and reparations and support a dedicated capacity to advance these efforts.’

This is a two-pronged approach of the OHCHR. The first is collective action and, as a backup, individual State action. The shame that has befallen this country is the mere fact that Sri Lanka has been picked by the world body for negative scrutiny. As a country, we have been ashamed in the international stage. Our deficiency in the skills of sophisticated engagement protocols, exacerbated by myopic and ‘knee jerk’ foreign policies will have ramifications:

(1) on our international relations especially, in the sphere of bi-lateral, unilateral and multi-lateral engagements; 

(2) the image and reputation of Sri Lanka in the diplomatic fora, isolation from her international peers and others with whom she has ties; 

(3) on foreign participation in the economic activities of Sri Lanka like trade, financial flows, investment;

(4) on the ownership of assets abroad, travel by government officials; and,

(4) the human rights record of our country   

The unsustainable policy stand of forced cremation of COVID-19 dead besides belying science, is also in violation of the fundamental rights in the Constitution,  international obligations and human rights. Any sane person reading through the facts below will understand this.

1) The virus was first identified in December 2019 and all the countries of the world buried those who died of COVID-19 infection.  The Ministry of Health Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients dated 27th March 2020 allowed for burial of dead bodies under certain conditions.

2) This decision was changed four days later, on the 31st March requiring that all COVID-19 victims be cremated. (The Extraordinary Gazette notification 2170/8 of 11th April 2020). Thereby, deliberately denying the right for the Muslims and Christians (and some from the Buddhist/Tamil communities) to bury their dead according to their religious teachings or personal wishes.

3) According to the government, the reason for not allowing burial is to prevent contamination of the ground water by the COVID-19 virus.  

It is interesting to evaluate this position of the government in the light of scientific evidence.

Medical Science

a) World Health Organisation – in its guidelines dated 24 March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly laid down burial as one of the safe methods of disposal. (1). 

b) The World Health Organisation document states, the claims that the virus spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through drinking water. (2)

c) WHO, CDC and ECDPC – On the basis that burial is safe, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention of United States ((WHO), CDC) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) had issued clear and extensive guidelines on handling dead bodies for cremation or burial. (3). 

d) Experts Team – On 24 December 2020, the Ministry of Health of the Sri Lanka Government appointed an Experts Team in the field of immunology, virology and microbiology to provide their recommendations on whether burial can be allowed. (4).  

The Experts Team in their report clearly stated that the virus cannot replicate in a dead body and the remaining virus would die over a period of time. It stated that the virus infection is not a water-borne disease therefore, contamination of water is very remote.  The Experts Team recommended cremation or burial with guidelines.  They also emphasised that the dignity of the dead and their families should be respected and protected. (5).  

e) College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) – 

One of the leading medical institutions, in their positional paper, voiced their specialist opinion.  It stated that with more than 80 million global infection cases and 1.7 million deaths, there is no evidence in the nearly 85,000 published scientific literature on COVID-19 that the virus was transmitted through a dead body.  Further the spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated. Virus may not spread from dead bodies but there is a possible to spread through hospital sewage, waste from isolation and quarantine centers, faecal-oral transmission but not from the dead bodies.

They concluded urging that each citizen of Sri Lanka should be allowed to be cremated or buried as per his/her and the family’s desire within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health. (6).

f) Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) – Another leading medical institution in their response to the issue of COVID 19 death management in Sri Lanka had expressed their views in favour of burial.  

There are no reports of the virus being infective via ground water. Even in the case of severe waterborne diseases like Cholera, burial of infected dead bodies was allowed. It is unlikely that the virus could remain infectious within a dead body for any significant period of time.  The council of the Sri Lanka Medical Association is with the view that burial of COVID-19 dead bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka. (7).

Further, it stated that disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies has affected ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. In view of the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka, it is essential to have a proper policy for disposal of the dead which is acceptable to all.

United Nations Human Rights

(a) United Nations High Commissioner for human rights – (OHCHR) – In its latest report dated 27 January 2021, titled, “Sri Lanka on alarming path towards recurrence of grave human rights violations” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) details as follows:

“the UN High Commissioner is deeply concerned by the trends emerging over the past year, which may represent early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation. With regard to burial, the High Commissioner notes that WHO guidance stresses that “cremation is a cultural choice”.  (8).

As stated above, the World Health Organisation in its guidelines dated 24 March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly laid down that burial as one of the safe methods of disposal. 

(b) UN Special Rapporteurs – The following four UN Special Rapporteurs: 

(i)  Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; 

(ii) the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the 

highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; 

(iii) the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and,

(iv) the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights 

and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

in a communication to the President of Sri Lanka stated as follows:

“We are concerned that the amendment is inconsistent with the Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 guideline provided by World Health Organisation (WHO Guideline). Furthermore, we are concerned of the lack of consideration provided and the lack of sensitivity in the MoH Guideline to different communities and their religious and cultural practices.”  The Special Rapporteurs reiterated the point that WHO Guideline provides that people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. (9).

(c) Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) – 

The Commission on 20 November 2020, highlighted that any restriction on a fundamental right, even at a time of crisis, must be imposed under strict justifications. It recommended to permit burial of bodies of persons who succumb to the Covid-19 virus while adhering to required health guidelines.  It also urged the government to ensure compliance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. (10).  

(d) Civil Society, Rights Activists and Civil Organisations

Recognised individuals consisting of professionals, academics, lawyers, specialists, intellects, reverend priests and 29 civil society organisations issued a statement urging the government to permit burial of the COVID-19 dead bodies.

They said that the government’s ongoing forcible cremation policy without proper scientific evidence has caused much suffering and grievance to certain religious groups. The statement called upon the government to enable those from religious minority to bury their dead. (11).

 More than 190 countries in the world have buried the COVID-19 infected dead bodies and are continuing to do so.  There is not a single evidence that ground water has been contaminated.

The above provides a synopsis of the ongoing human rights violation by the forced cremation policy of the Sri Lanka government. Before any action is imposed on Sri Lanka by outside bodies, it will be prudent for the government to revisit the current policy and permit burial.  This will safeguard and protect the image and reputation of Sri Lanka internationally.  Such a decision will also allow the Muslims and Christians (and some from the Buddhist/Tamil communities) to bury their dead as per their wishes.  


1. Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 dated 24 March 2020 https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331538/WHO-COVID-19-lPC_DBMgmt-2020.1-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

2. (Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. World Health Organization, 29th July 2020. 

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/ WHO-2019-nCoV-IPC-WASH-2020.4).

3. College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka, https://ccpsl.org/

4. Letter of appointment of a panel of virologist, microbiologist and immunologist for expert opinion on safe disposal of human remains of COVID-19 infected people. Dated 24/12/2020. Ref No: SH/CORONA/05/2020-Vol II. Signed by Maj Gen (Dr) S H Munasinghe, Secretary Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka.

5. Disposal of corpse of persons infected with SARS-Cov-2 virus – Recommendations by the Expert Group dated 28/12/2020.

6. College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka, https://ccpsl.org/

7. Response of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) to the issue of COVID 19 death management in Sri Lanka

8. Link to report: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ Countries /LK/ Sri_LankaReportJan2021.docx

9. Reference: AL LKA 2/2020 8 April 2020

10. Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Observations and Recommendations on Extraordinary Gazette No.2179/8 dated 11th April 2020.

11. Statement of Civil society and Civil Organisation dated 04th January 2021.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Not true.

    That has nothing to do with burial rights.

  • 3

    OHCHR is more worried about the living than the dead. This is where they differ from you.

  • 27

    Dear MASS L. Usuf,

    As long as there are muslim MPs there to give their support to this regime (similar to 20th amendment) they will cheat not only Muslims but also the Sinhalese as well. See how Mahinda mama is cheating by telling we are not selling to Sinhalese with East Colombo Harbour to India. As long as Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism is there, they will cheat all.

  • 33

    Make no mistake these extremist sinhala buddhists and their supporters and their sanfron robed terrorist clergy will pay for the blatant abhorrent violation of human rights. Not allowing the Muslims and Christians to bury their loved ones who have passed and forcefully cremating them to please their kaali amma god; will catch up to these extremist buddhist scum.
    Their is a beautiful teaching in Islam: the supplication of the opressed is answered even if the ones who are supplicating are non believers. So then what about the case of monotheists who worship the Lord of the heavens and the earth. Supplicate for these extremist buddhist scum to be suffer affliction and tribulations like those that were brought down on pharaoh. Don’t be swayed by the whispering of the devil to not make supplication against it’s slaves (extremist sinhala buddhists). Supplicate pfor the wealth these extremist sinhala buddhists hoard to be destroyed. Supplicate for these extremist sinhala buddhists to be destroyed without any Mercy.

    • 3

      There are NO extremist Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka except a minority few like the Rajapakses, Champa, Eagle Eye and Gatam. The majority are humane and understanding. Almost the entirety of the medical personnel and scientists who have permitted burial are Buddhists. Even the Health Minister and the Medical Administrators are also humane personnel. But they are helpless in the light of the dictatorial Rajapakses. They have all become puppets and are dancing to the tune of the dictators.

      It seems that there is a larger Agenda. Maybe with the connivance of some foreign governments. We have to cross our fingers and wait………….

      • 3

        While I understand what you’re saying there is a huge point of difference between what you say and what reality is.
        “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing”
        Never forget many of the atrocities that happened in the past was because the majority kept silent because of the benefits they though they would enjoy while the minorities suffered, but as history has proved such instances no one benefits when the roof comes down on everyone. The SILENT MAJORTY ARE NOT INNOCENT. Do something in your capacity, even if it is sharing a post or typing a comment.

  • 19

    The proof of the pudding will be on the number of Muslim countries voting in favour of a UNHRC resolution proposed by the Core Countries!

  • 19

    The stuff that Mr Mass Usuf has presented is convincing and incontrovertible. It is backed by loads of credible evidence and by international authorities.

    We Sri Lankans are hanging our heads in collective shame at the boorish, cruel and ultimately self-destructive policies of Sir Herrnandopakse.

  • 25

    Herr Nanda and his unqualified regime, are sending the world a strong message that they know MORE than all the experts in the world. They have shown arrogance, racism, discrimination, and indifference, to the minority, and to the rest of the world.
    It is unfortunate that the Rajapaksa’s chose to take the wrong path. A nation that depends on aid and loans from other countries, cannot keep biting the hands that feed it. The only choice left will be to once again turn to their good buddy China, who will give a little, and take a lot, including chunks of this country.

  • 5

    Maldives has thousands of uninhabited islands. We should request the Government of Maldives to allow Muslims in Sri Lanka to settle in those islands so that they can live with Muslim brothers and sisters, bury their dead bodies and do whatever they like without giving headaches to Native Sinhalayo who saved their ancestors who came to Sinhale as refugees from Hindusthan from persecution by Portuguese and allowed them to settle down in their country.

    • 0

      Sri Lankan Muslims are Sinhala blood

    • 21

      Nah. Adam is the first human being, his foot print is on Adams peak; thus proving the first people on this Island were monotheists.
      So this Island belongs to the Muslims, Jews and Christians (monotheistic religions). All the filthy savage sinhalayo came centuries after with their tail between their legs after being chased away from india. And after coming to this land that belongs to the Muslims and Christians their women started sleeping with the lions in the forest (origin story of the singha-le people) !! Yuck !! Absolute backward savages.

  • 5

    Convincing ‘Moda’ Muslims who live in stone age that cremation is the ‘Zero Risk’ option is an uphill task.

    • 22

      The irony of an extremist sinhala buddhist who doesn’t understand science and is unable to comprehend the the scientific method claiming that ‘those citing scientific research is incorrect’ as being “Moda” is just too rich 😂😂
      But let’s look at the reality:
      1). Scientists have stated that there is no evidence to prove that cremation completely gets rid of the virus or reduces the risk of transmission.
      2). cremation is an extremely harmful to the environment in terms of the pollution it creates. That’s why every developed city has imposed strict limits for how many cremations can take place.

      • 19

        3). This issue has nothing to do with covid or the water table; it is primarily because racist extremist sinhala buddhists want to force their kaali devil worshipping religion on people. Don’t worry, in the very near future there won’t be any buddhism left on this earth let alone that destitute island. People are waking up to the violence and extremism that is taught in buddhism that they can see in how the inhumane the buddhists are in sri lanka and myanmar.

  • 0

    WHO-convened Global Study of the Origins and set its rules. by sharing the viral genetic data not abiding makes some the other person not important it will be exposed internationally as ignored on purpose If an exam is kept internationally aboout corono virus what marks will sri lanka score , then
    China does not take a position on the internal affairs of another country.

  • 4

    (This comment was written yesterday. But somehow I’ve forgotten to send it)
    Mass L. Usuf
    NO, Sri Lanka has NOT done anything wrong to pay any price to anybody.
    Same as OUNHCHR’s Report, your article is also full of racist notions and discrimination against Sinhalese.
    You say, “….deliberately denying the right for the Muslims and Christians (and some from the Buddhist/Tamil communities) to bury their dead according to their religious teachings or personal wishes.”
    What do you mean by (and SOME from the Buddhist/Tamil communities)? And why are they “in brackets”?
    If it was not racism, give me the reason for you to prioritize Muslims and Christians and downgrade and inconsequent the majority religion Buddhism when you talk about religious rights, human rights and self-dignity.
    You and your disgustingly bias UNHCHR, Michelle Bachelet are trying to twist and distort the report issued by independent and impartial World Health Organization (WHO) to wrongly accuse the Sri Lanka government for violation of religious rights of MUSLIMS.

    • 1

      I reproduce below the paragraph 31 under D of the OHCHR’s Report which you highly talk about:-
      “D. 31. The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted on religious freedom and exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation and discrimination suffered by the MUSLIM COMMUNITY. The High Commissioner is concerned that the Government’s decision to mandate cremations for all those affected by COVID-19 has prevented MUSLIMS from practicing THEIR OWN burial religious rites, and has disproportionately affected RELIGIOUS MINORITIES and exacerbated distress and tensions. Although the Government asserted to OHCHR that this policy is driven by public health concerns and scientific advice, the High Commissioner notes that WHO guidance stresses that “cremation is a cultural choice”. Sri Lankan MUSLIMS have also been stigmatized in popular discourse as carriers of COVID 19 – a concern raised by the High Commissioner in her global update to the Council in June 2020.” (The CAPITALIZED emphasis is mine.)
      Why did Michelle Bachelet mislead the world by falsely claiming that only the religious rights of Muslims are violated by GOSL’s COVID-19 Funeral Law, when in actual terms it applies and affects all communities? What made her to stoop to such a low level of emotion-provoking selective attention to Muslim community? Is she playing cheap politics or is it because of OUNHCHR’s deeply ingrained prejudice against Sinhalese?

      • 2

        Yes, the WHO guidance stresses that “cremation is a cultural choice” and allows countries to choose burials OR cremations, based on local conditions.
        You may note the following SPECIFIC WORDS in your own points under Medical Science:-
        a) WHO-burial as “one of the” safe methods of disposal
        c) WHO-CDC-ECDPC-handling dead bodies for “cremation or burial”
        d) EXPERTS-TEAM-recommended “cremation or burial”
        f) CCPSL-allowed to be “cremated or buried”
        e) SLMA-expressed their views in favour of “burial (in addition to cremations”, right?)
        As you see, none of them have recommended burials specifically, but given a choice between the two. The most important factor is, while the recommendations for burials are only based on assumptions, the government’s decision to impose a compulsory cremation law was exactly based on WHO’s guidance which is “a cultural choice”.
        For yours and Michelle Bachelet’s information, “a cultural choice” has a broader meaning
        In the case of Sri Lanka, culture, environment, water and agriculture are inseparably intertwined. Therefore, as stressed by WHO’s guidelines, the Sri Lankan government considered all aspects related to the above-mentioned factors when taking a decision.
        When the WHO has clearly GIVEN A CHOICE to individual countries to decide either burials OR cremations, I don’t understand what right Michelle Bachelet has to question the Sri Lanka government of its choice.

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