No valid restriction on freedom of religion and belief – HRCSL
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) said, the mandatory requirement imposed under the Extraordinary Gazette Number 2170/8 dated 11 April 2020 for the cremation of the bodies of persons who succumb to COVID-19, is not a valid restriction of the freedom to manifest religion and belief.
The Commission, therefore, has urged and recommended the amending of the said Gazette to ensure its compatibility with the Constitution and international obligations such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
It was pointed out that as per the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the ICCPR, ‘Although a State may invoke public health as a grounds to restrict certain rights in order to take measures to deal with a serious threat to the health of the population or individual members of the population, such measures must be specifically aimed at preventing disease or injury or providing care for the sick and the injured, and also due regard should be given to the International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization.’
The Commission also recommended the following: ‘Permit burials as well as cremations of bodies of persons who succumb to COVID-19, whilst adhering to the required health guidelines.
Mandate that polymerase chain reaction test results be issued within 24 hours of a death. Create a sanitary system for the storing of the bodies of those who die at home and to stop taking them to the Police morgue. Adopt a systematic approach to the management of deaths via a transparent process for the delegation of the authority by the proper authority, a process for declaring a person’s cause of death and permitting families to pay their final respects while adhering to the required health guidelines. And ensure stakeholder participation when formulating procedures for the management of deaths in the context of COVID-19, by engaging the communities that may be affected.’
The Commission observed and recommended, thus, in a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Ministry of Health and the Director General of Health Services, on the Extraordinary Gazette No. 2170/8 dated 11 April 2020.
‘The death of a loved one under any circumstance is one of the most difficult experiences for human beings. To add more grief by not sharing information on the person’s death or imposing a fixed way of managing the remains in contradiction of the edicts of a person’s religious beliefs is sad.
Any restrictions on a fundamental right, even at a time of crisis such as that which 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,’ the Commission observed.